Coach emphasizes perspective in up-and-down season
If one thing has been constant in the Rutgers gymnastics team’s season, it is that the Scarlet Knights have persistently shown they can keep the big picture in perspective.
Through the highs and lows of a relatively inconsistent season, the Knights have stayed the course and never wavered from their end goal of making the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2007.
That much was reaffirmed after Saturday’s historic outing — when head coach Louis Levine made it very clear that his team’s business is far from finished.
“I’m way up in the clouds, but I don’t want to get too high,” he said. “We still have three meets left to go. And in all honesty, we can still do better than we did [Saturday]. We’re going to keep striving for better and better.”
Levine also does not want to downplay Rutgers’ school-record accomplishment — which did not come about by chance.
It is no coincidence the Knights have produced two straight scores of 195 or better at home, where they end the season with a 10-1 home record.
Levine believes there is something special about the atmosphere of the Livingston Recreation Center that has helped propel the program to another level this season.
“The energy of the crowd is amazing,” Levine said. “Really, it’s been standing room only for almost every meet this year. The girls can play off of that. When you get off to a hot start like we did on vault … you just carry it along through the rest of the meet — and so it was great.”
Results ultimately come down to the gymnasts executing under pressure, and there have been numerous times when the Knights very well could have wilted.
After posting the program’s first 195 score in almost 13 years Feb. 2, Rutgers was confident it broke a barrier that would mark a pivotal turning point.
The very next week — Feb. 8 at Kent State — the Knights plummeted back below a 194, largely because it counted numerous falls and scored its second-worst balance beam total of the season.
But, just as the Knights refuse to become overly enamored with high points, they also do not allow low points in their season to demoralize them.
Rutgers responded with its highest road score in program history Feb. 17 at Maryland and — at the time –— its second-highest beam score of the season.
The ride did not stop there, though.
The Knights dealt with what they considered to be overly strict, inconsistent judging that often awarded scores either too high or too low Feb. 23 at Denver. Once again Rutgers dropped below the 194 score range.
The Knights remained levelheaded and persevered through it all — even when fizzling may have been a much easier alternative.
After Saturday’s history-making team score of 195.975, Rutgers ranks 39th nationally with a Regional Qualifying Score of 194.315 — only 0.400 points behind No. 36 Iowa State, who currently holds the last spot for the NCAA Regionals.
To jump three more coveted spots in the rankings, it comes down to two more road meets and the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championships for the Knights.
They have no choice but to stare down a road nemesis that has granted Rutgers just one team score above a 194 all season.
“When you go to away meets, some of our parents go — but we don’t really have fans going,” said junior Luisa Leal on Saturday. “But when we’re home, everybody’s here. When you stand there, and you feel a thousand people screaming your name and screaming the name of your school — you’re like, ‘Oh God, it’s my moment.’”
Levine still insists the location has no effect on his gymnasts’ routines.
If Rutgers finishes off its historic season by qualifying for the NCAA Regionals, it will need to prove him right.
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GJohnsonTargum.