RU pushes for postseason berth
An air of focused tension and supreme confidence consumes the Livingston Recreation Center these days.
At the site of the Rutgers gymnastics team’s weekday morning practices, it is hard to find a Scarlet Knight dead set on anything other than earning the program its first trip to the NCAA Regionals since 2007.
It is an unspoken mindset in which the Knights stay within themselves, not wanting to press.
“Everyone’s in a good mind frame. We probably won’t even talk about it,” said head coach Louis Levine. “They know what they need to get done. As long as they keep doing their job, I think we’ll be fine.”
After Friday’s school-record road score of 195.550 at Towson, the Knights rank 37th nationally with a Regional Qualifying Score of 194.685. Iowa State barely clings to the 36th and final spot for regionals at 194.855, with only two qualifying meets left.
Week after week in the second half of the season, Rutgers has inched closer to its elusive goal in the national rankings.
Time is growing thin, but the Knights sense they have nearly broken the threshold.
“I think we’re all really pumped. We see how close we are to our goals,” said junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman. “I think everyone has it in themselves that we are capable of this and we’re going to get there. Everyone just is going to continue to push.”
The push could reach a tipping point as soon as tomorrow night, when Rutgers faces No. 21 West Virginia and Maryland in Morgantown, West Va.
The matchup is a rematch of the Feb. 17 meet with the Mountaineers and Terrapins in Maryland, when the Knights broke a 195 on the road for the first time in history.
Though Rutgers finished in last, Gunzelman believes the team’s high-level performance took the two national powers by surprise.
The Knights were happy to be competitive back then, but now insist they have the mental make-up to seize a win.
“The last time we saw them, they were shocked that we had scored a 195,” Gunzelman said. “Coming off the past few meets that we’ve had, I think that we’re going to be able to top the score that we had when we first saw them – and I think that’s going to put an even bigger shock to their faces.”
Regardless of how its opponents perform, Rutgers will likely leap into the top 36 simply with another 195 performance. On the other hand, any slight hiccup could hand the Knights a crucial setback in the standings.
Navigating the tightrope will depend on each individual believing their skills at this point, Gunzelman said. If the Knights proceed with the mindset of still questioning whether they will hit a particular routine, the postseason will likely elude them.
Rutgers also knows it can still perform better, refusing to become enamored with its historic accomplishments.
“At this past meet, we put up a great score, but we could’ve done better. We definitely had mistakes,” said senior Nicole Romano. “As a team, bars definitely could’ve been better. We didn’t have to count a fall, but we did have a fall — and then just little mistakes like sticks and little form. If everyone picks up a tenth, then it makes a big difference.”
With the end goal in sight, Rutgers has no interest in a dramatic finish.
Levine thinks his team is capable of finishing near the top 30 and not simply sneaking into the field.
“We have the advantage of a couple low scores to drop [in RQS]. … I think we’ll be in pretty easily,” Levine said. “I think we have the ability to move up pretty high — even into the lower 30s as opposed to just 36.”
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @_GregJohnson_.