March 24, 2019 | 47° F

Gymnastics: Junior breaks record in all-around competition

Luisa Leal spent more than a year fighting her way back to the all-around competition after being sidelined Jan. 20, 2012 with a chronic heart problem.

The junior for the Rutgers gymnastics team returned to competition in all four events Feb. 17, and Friday night she cemented her name among the best in program history in the event.

Leal set a school-record all-around score of 39.500 as the Scarlet Knights toppled Towson, 195.550-194.600, at the Towson Center in Maryland.

The score broke the previous program road record of 195.050 set Feb. 17 at Maryland. It also marked Rutgers’ first outright road win this season and its third time in four meets in which they eclipsed a 195 score.

For head coach Louis Levine, any qualms about the Knights’ consistency or ability to perform routines as sharply away from home have been put to rest.

As the season has progressed, both consistency and the perfecting of tiny intricacies have come naturally.

“Gymnastics is about putting in numbers — and, obviously, as the season goes on, you put more and more numbers in,” Levine said. “At the beginning of the year, sometimes it’s about making sure you’re getting through routines, and then the end of the year — it’s really all about showing them off.”

This philosophy has been particularly apparent on the vault, an event which several of the Knights called a team weakness early in the season.

After averaging a 48.395 team score on vault in the first five meets, the Knights have averaged a 48.885 in the five meets since.

Rutgers broke the 48.975 program-record score it set March 2 by compiling a 49.100 at Towson. Three Knights surpassed the 9.800 mark, while freshmen Danielle Verdon and Nicolette Wilson stepped up with career highs of 9.775 apiece.

“It’s just hard work paying off,” Levine said. “[Friday] was just another step in that direction of doing good vaults and really where our expectation is.”

The total performance was not without adversity.

Rutgers put itself in an early hole after performing an underwhelming score of 48.450 on the uneven bars to open the meet.

Levine said routines on bars were shaky and easily the Knights’ lowest moment, but the manner in which they responded — coming close to a 196 for the second straight week — proved character.

“We didn’t have the strongest start in this meet, but we sure — if anything — had an amazing finish,” Levine said. “That’s the sign of a really good team.”

Much of it stemmed from Leal.

The Cali, Columbia, native at least tied for first, individually, in every event — performing career highs of 9.875 and 9.950 on bars and the floor exercise, respectively. One of the judges saw perfection in her floor routine, awarding her a 10.000.

Throughout the competition, Leal proved herself to be a reliable rock and table setter for her teammates. When she is at her peak, Levine insists that few can outperform her.

“She’s an elite-level athlete,” Levine said. “When she’s on, she’s one of the best gymnasts in the country, and she was on [Friday] in every event. The score was indicative of the performance.”

With the effort, Rutgers will likely thrust itself just inside the qualifying top 36 for the NCAA Regionals — entering the final week of the regular season. Regional Qualifying Score weekly updates are released today.

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

By Greg Johnson

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