June 18, 2019 | 75° F

Rutgers continues push for elite national status

Photo by Nisha Datt |

Junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman will be instrumental in Rutgers’ goal to score 196 in a meet. She participated in floor last week for the first time this season.

Alexis Gunzelman said Jan. 28 much work was in order for the Rutgers gymnastics team to reach the top 36 nationally by the end of the season.

The junior co-captain was right.

The Scarlet Knights were coming off a third-worst season score of 193.225 at Penn State only two days earlier.

Since then, the Knights have made a concerted effort to raise their intensity and mindset in practice, and the results reflect the change.

In three meets since the Nittany Lions, Rutgers reached a team score of 195 twice — something no other team in program history had done once in almost 13 years.

It is humbling for the Knights, but they refuse to stop here.

“We are very, very happy for what we’ve been doing. We’re not comfortable, though,” said junior Luisa Leal. “We are not going to be comfortable until we hit that 196 kind of number.”

For Leal, that will mostly come simply with time.

She insists much of breaking the elite 196-point barrier comes down to earning the respect of judges that are not used to seeing Rutgers compete at such a high level.

“Of course there’s room for improvement in gymnastics, but right now the biggest part of it is kind of changing history,” Leal said. “When the judges see Rutgers, they’re expecting to see some kind of routines — however we used to look five, six, seven years ago — and right now it’s different.”

The Knights believe their routines are just as strong as any other team’s, but understand they are far from flawless.

Gunzelman said each individual focusing on minor holes in their routines should go a long way.

“I think it’s just little tenths,” Gunzelman said. “If everyone can improve their routines by a half tenth to a tenth, and we just hit 24-for-24 like we did, I think that’s really going to help us get to that 196.”

The Knights are confident in their ability to consistently hit routines, so score improvement at this point boils down to style points.

“This week is more about straightening the legs, keeping the arms straight, pointing the toes,” Gunzelman said, “because all that stuff adds up and I think that’s really going to change the low 195 scores to the top 195 scores.”

Leal also acknowledges the minor physical limitations the team has shown.

Finishing routines remains essential, she said.

“We have to stick landings. If you stick landings, it’s one tenth or a quarter of a tenth extra that you’re going to get,” Leal said. “But I’m pretty happy with where we are right now gymnastics-wise.”

Head coach Louis Levine shares the sentiments of his gymnasts.

He is happy with the Knights’ recent accomplishments, but still not satisfied, he said.

Despite this year’s squad already thrusting itself into the record books, Levine is not worried about Rutgers lacking any motivation moving forward.

Postseason aspirations that cannot be fulfilled until the end of the season continue to drive the Knights, he said.

“It’s going to come down to not having a balance check on beam or not taking a step on your floor, or not taking a step on bar dismount — same thing on vault,” Levine said. “Those are the things that are going to make the difference between the 195 and the 196.”

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

By Greg Johnson

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