Mixed emotions dawn on senior before last home meet
When Danielle D’Elia tries to reflect on her Rutgers gymnastics career, all she can think about is how quickly the time has passed.
The senior said her debut for the Scarlet Knights as a freshman a little more than three years ago feels like hardly a distant memory.
As she cringes at the thought of her final home meet Saturday, D’Elia is most proud to have been integral in something special.
Over the last few years, Rutgers has seen an improvement from years past. For two consecutive seasons, the Knights have broken the school’s previous record score at the EAGL Championships, and they are on pace to do it again this year.
“It’s definitely something that 10 years from now I’m going to look back and say, ‘I was a part of that,’” D’Elia said. “I was a part of those moments when everything started to change.”
She firmly believes the program is in good hands and knows these uplifting times will not end once her career is complete.
“It’s really nice to know that even when I’m gone, all that stuff is going to still happen, and that this isn’t just like a one-year thing,” D’Elia said. “This program is going to keep growing. They’re going to do so much more than what we did this year. But it was really honestly such an honor to be part of that.”
For D’Elia, her senior season to this point could not have been better scripted.
It marks both her individual and team highlight, which came when she set a career-high score of 9.900 on the floor exercise Feb. 2 to lead Rutgers to its first 195.000 team score in almost 13 years.
Both the career-high mark on floor and the historic team performance have always been two of D’Elia’s biggest dreams. But seeing that day actually come to fruition was surreal for her.
“That was such a memorable moment, and it was definitely something that I won’t ever forget because that was something that we had never done before,” D’Elia said. “And to do it was just — I guess, in a way, almost overwhelming — overwhelming of just so many really good emotions.”
Rutgers reaching that moment was no accident.
Before last season, a major transition was made. Former head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton resigned and former assistant coach Louis Levine stepped into her position.
With it, he brought in a new mentality of competition that has helped mold his gymnasts into believers of their potential.
“When he first came in last year, it was a change,” D’Elia said. “That’s not something that everybody is very accustomed to, and people get very comfortable with where they are. So it was hard — it was hard to make the transfer over to where we are now, and it took time — but in the end, it was something that benefitted our team, and it made us better.”
Now that her days of competition at the Livingston Recreation Center are coming to an end, she is consumed by another whirlwind of emotions.
“It’s going to be really nice to have all those people there one last time and everyone cheering us on, and my family and my friends … and experience it one last time,” D’Elia said, “but it’s going to be really sad for it to have to be the last time.”
As her time as a collegiate athlete has almost come and gone, D’Elia has learned lessons that transcend gymnastics.
She has been instilled with the understanding that nothing can be taken for granted — even a sport that the Colts Neck, N.J., native has played for almost 20 years.
“I always try to tell the freshmen you don’t realize how fast it really goes,” D’Elia said. “Before you know it, it’s over, and this is such an important part of your life because it really has developed who you’ve become as a person. So it’s really important to enjoy every moment and make every single moment count, because it’s not going to be there forever.”
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GJohnsonTargum.