July 18, 2019 | 85° F

Rookie steps up amid team injuries

Before the season began, Rutgers head gymnastics coach Louis Levine figured freshmen would play a vital role in the team’s depth. But he could not have guessed that a freshman would serve as arguably the Scarlet Knights’ top gymnast.

Despite odds against that happening, Jenna Williams has taken that title and ran with it.

The Bordentown, N.J., native earned EAGL Rookie of the Week honors Feb. 5 for the second time this season, and with good reason.

Williams leads Rutgers and ranks second overall in the conference on uneven bars with an average score of 9.821.

The only Knight with a slightly higher vault score average, junior Luisa Leal, has a sample size of only three meets this season.

Williams is humbled by her accomplishments.

“It’s a great feeling getting Rookie of the Week, especially twice. Not every freshman gets to experience that,” she said. “To be able to share it with the team, it’s just a great feeling.”

The rookie’s focus on winning for the team has never wavered.

Williams is one of only two Knights to compete in three events in every meet this season. In statistically her best meet of the season Jan. 26, she posted an average score of 9.792 across vault, bars and balance beam.

The hefty load she carries for the team each week does not go unnoticed.

“She’s such a big aspect to this team, especially leading the freshman class. She’s leading all the classes,” said junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman. “It just goes to show that anyone can step into that role and get big scores. You don’t have to be an upperclassman.”

The benchmark Williams established came at an opportune time.

When the Knights lost senior co-captain Jenna Zito — a three-event competitor — to a season-ending injury Jan. 12, some had likely written off Rutgers’ season.

But thanks to Williams stepping in as a leader, optimism for a strong finish has been restored.

Gunzelman said the rookie’s reliability stems from Williams’ work ethic in the gym. Levine agrees.

“She has done a great job of staying within herself and repeating her routines over and over,” Levine said. “Jenna has developed into someone we can count on.”

Arguably Williams’ most valuable contribution has been stability in performing an uneven bars routine in which Rutgers has been historically weak. She has recorded a score of at least 9.825 in all but one meet this season in the event.

Along with leading by example, Williams gives off the appearance of a veteran by the way she carries herself in meets.

She usually masks any mistakes in her routines and avoids costly point deductions, Levine said.                    

“She’s that kind of gymnast,” Levine said. “She knows what to do if there is something that doesn’t go exactly her way.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GJohnsonTargum.

By Greg Johnson

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