June 18, 2019 | 75° F

RU makes history books in Senior Day rout

A sea of emotional gymnasts and coaches embraced senior Danielle D’Elia after she nailed a floor exercise routine Saturday at the Livingston Recreation Center for the final time.

The Rutgers gymnastics team set a school-record score of 195.975 on Senior Day, sweeping its quad meet against Cornell, William & Mary and Brockport.

For D’Elia, all the work the Scarlet Knights put in this year finally paid off.

“It’s amazing. It feels so good to finally get exactly where we’ve been wanting to go,” D’Elia said. “We are just on the road to being really great and making history. That’s really honestly all you can ask for as a senior.”

A program-record score of 48.975 on vault ignited the performance, as junior Luisa Leal anchored the event for Rutgers with an individual team-record score of 9.925.

But Leal accredits junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman — who set a career high in the all-around with a 39.225 first-place outing — for setting the tone with an enhanced-level routine her teammates had never seen before.

“Alexis’ vault set everything up, because we’re used to seeing her vault a certain way, and she stuck it. We never see her stick it,” Leal said. “She started with a [9.825] vault and everyone else had to get a 9.8 or better.”

Leal followed Gunzelman’s lead, executing the first crisp vault dismount of her career.

“When I did it and I saw the judges’ faces, I was like, ‘God, I’ve been waiting for this moment three years. I don’t even know what to say. Should I scream, or smile, or laugh?’” Leal said. “It was awesome.”

A fired-up Knights unit never looked back.

Rutgers proceeded to post a season-high score of 48.950 on the uneven bars. Freshman Jenna Williams led the team with a career-high mark of 9.900 — the highest of any Knight this season.

D’Elia also competed a bars routine, earning a 9.800, for the first time since Jan. 26, when she hurt her shoulder.

“It was a little nerve-wracking because I hadn’t competed bars in a while, but I did exhibition [Feb. 23] at Denver, so that was a good thing,” D’Elia said. “I just got back into it and [head coach Louis Levine] made a decision that I was ready.”

On floor, D’Elia and Leal sealed the historic outing with scores of 9.875 and 9.900, respectively, as Rutgers set another individual event record with a team score of 49.250.

Pacing back and forth behind the media table before her final home performance, D’Elia spoke to no one as an overwhelming confliction of feelings dawned on her.

“It’s definitely an array of emotions,” D’Elia said of the moment. “It doesn’t feel real, and it doesn’t feel like this was my last time ever competing in here, so before I went on I just wanted to do my best for the team and really do everything I can to help us get to where we got [Saturday].”

Two routines after D’Elia, Leal ended the meet where she started it — anchoring an event. She refused to disappoint the packed crowd.

“Being anchor on the last event — especially when you’re at home — is such an honor and such a privilege that you just feel like you can’t let your people down,” Leal said.

For the second straight time at home, Rutgers had accomplished something for the history books.

For Levine, the final chapter to his seniors’ home careers could not have been written any better.

“[D’Elia’s] been amazing on floor her whole entire career here. She’s been our rock through everything. It was great for her to go out on such a great routine,” Levine said. “All the seniors did an absolute great job today.”

By Greg Johnson

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