Rutgers vaults into Big Ten conference competition
The Rutgers gymnastics team is facing one of the toughest challenges in program history this season: adjusting to the competition in the Big Ten Conference.
The prestigious conference features some of the nation’s top programs with six of them currently in the top-25 rankings.
The Scarlet Knights compete against top tier programs in nearly every meet, which is a daunting task.
“There’s definitely a step up in the level of competition,” said head coach Louis Levine on joining the Big Ten. “In the first few meets, we’ve gone against two teams in the top-10 and one in the top-15.”
Coming off one of their best seasons in school history should help the Knights build momentum into this year.
Rutgers set a program-best 196.225 score on Senior Day, along with six of the top 10 scores in team history over the course of the year.
The Knights earned a spot in the NCAA Regionals due to their success but this season could be a rebuilding year for Rutgers with many of its top gymnasts graduated.
There are six freshmen on the team this season. But having competed at the highest levels leading up to this point, the newcomers are confident in their abilities.
“Coming in as a freshman, you still have competed your whole life in gymnastics,” said senior captain Emma Hoffman. “You know what you’re doing. The only difference is you’re not only competing for yourself anymore. You’re competing for Rutgers and for each other. Everything else is pretty much the same.”
Rutgers has already competed in a few meets so far this year, placing third out of four with a score of 191.825 in their season opener at Penn State against the Nittany Lions, New Hampshire and Cornell.
Last weekend, the Knights nearly upset No. 9 Illinois on the road but their bid fell short by a score of 196.175 to 192.775.
“We constantly talk about improvement from week to week, day to day, and season to season,” Levine said. “The program right now is getting better and better, but I don’t think there is a person on the team who thinks we’re good enough yet. We’re not where we want to be.”
Rutgers posted the sixth-best balance beam score in program history at the meet and junior Jenna Williams led the Knights with a team high 9.850 score in the event.
Senior captain Luisa Leal had high praise for Williams’ efforts following a season spent battling injuries.
“I’m very proud of her. She’s my girl,” Leal said. “… I know how frustrated she was last year. … Now she’s doing three [events] and hopefully at the end of the season, she’ll be doing all four [events]. I’m just very proud of her and very happy to see her do what she can do.”
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