March 20, 2019 | 29° F

RU goes for progress off last year’s season-high marks

Photo by Marielle Sumergido |

Senior Alexis Gunzelman returns after two years participating in the all-around for Rutgers. After earning EAGL First-Team All-Uneven Bars last year, Gunzelman hopes the rest of the team makes it to the NCAA Regionals. All four who made them last year return for the Knights.

With about a month left until the team’s opener Jan. 18 against New Hampshire, the Rutgers gymnastics team has higher hopes than ever.

The Scarlet Knights achieved four of the top-six scores in program history last season.

The Knights earned a 195.00 score during a quad meet Feb. 2 with Brown, Pittsburgh and Southern Connecticut — their first time eclipsing the 195 mark in 13 years.

“We’re hoping to do more of the same [this season],” said third-year head coach Louis Levine. “I think we set a standard for where we would like to be on a week-to-week basis last year. One of our goals this year is to be a 195, 196 team, and even get some 197 scores throughout the year.”

Proving this was no outlier, the Knights’ 195.05 score against Maryland two weeks later was the program’s highest on the road, until they broke it with a 195.550 at Towson on March 8.

On Senior Day a week prior, the Knights rewrote their history books, scoring a program-high 195.975 at the Livingston Gym.

Even with the highest season-average score in program history of 194.719, the team did not qualify for the NCAA Regionals after a sub-194 performance at the EAGL Championships.

Four Knights made the NCAA Regionals as individuals, and all four return this season.

Senior co-captain Luisa Leal’s 39.175 all-around score placed her sixth out of 17 gymnasts. The top-two scores qualified for the NCAA Championships, and Leal was just 0.025 points short.

After sitting out most of the 2012 season and the first three weeks of 2013, the former EAGL Rookie of the Year will enter the season healthy.

Senior Alexis Gunzelman returns after participating in all-around competition for just the second time in her career at regionals. The co-captain earned an EAGL First-Team All-Uneven Bars spot last season.

“It’s motivating to the entire team. We had those four girls that did make it and it helps us push the rest of the team because we know what it feels like to be there as an individual,” Gunzelman said. “It’s not the experience we want as a team [to make the postseason only as individuals], because you want the whole team there to help push you even harder.”

Two then-freshmen — Jenna Williams and Claudia Salinas — earned postseason experience in the tournament in their specializations. Williams joined Gunzelman on the EAGL First-Team All-Uneven Bars, while Salinas earned the honors on the balance beam.

The Knights are expected to perform strong in their last year in the conference before entering the Big Ten next season. They have not qualified for NCAAs as a team since 2007.

“I think you’re going to see a team that’s in better shape this year, just a physically stronger overall team,” Levine said.

Four meets occur at the Livingston Gym this season. The Knights open the season against New Hampshire and then host Brown on Jan. 24.

The Knights host two quad meets beginning Feb. 22 with Penn State — which ended last season No. 15 in the country — Temple and Ursinius. They host Central Michigan, Towson, Southern Connecticut and Yale on March 8.

“At the end of the season last year, we shocked a lot of teams,” Gunzelman said. “We went from a team that everyone walked in thinking that, ‘Well it’s just Rutgers, we’ve got this one in the bag,’ to teams [being] like, ‘Oh my gosh, Rutgers scored a 195.’”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

By Justin Lesko

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