July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Rutgers qualifies three for NCAA Regionals

Photo by Yingjie Hu |

Freshman Elizabeth Groden with compete alongside senior Luisa Leal and junior Jenna Williams at the Morgantown Regional of the NCAA Tournament, April 3-5.

When the Rutgers gymnastics team finally set out for Ann Arbor, Michigan, to compete in the Big Ten Championships, the results were mixed.

The Scarlet Knights’ results of the meet reflects the team’s season as a whole — close but not close enough.

“We got to see some of the best gymnastics in the world and know where we need to be,” said head coach Louis Levine. “I think this was a really good learning experience for the whole team and I think we take away a lot from it.”

Down by a substantial margin, Rutgers needed a big finish to have a chance at a victory.

The Knights bounced back in the third rotation on the floor exercise. Sophomore Claire Jones hit the 9.875 mark by landing a double layout — a double front flip regarded as a move performed by only the very elite gymnasts — in her first pass.

“Obviously, it’s her first pass,” Levine said. “It’s one of the more difficult tumbling passes that we have and she does it well.”

Rutgers posted a team total of 49.150 on vault to tie Iowa for the highest team score of any Big Ten squad this season in the event.

Michigan won the Big Ten Title with a score of 197.825. The Knights concluded the meet with a final score of 193.125 to place last out of 10 teams.

“We finished really strong,” Levine said. “Our last two events were two of our probably best events of the year. Obviously, it’s our second best vault score in program history which is a nice way to end the meet. Unfortunately, we struggled at the beginning.”

But after the disappointing end to its season, Rutgers heard some encouraging news on Tuesday.

Despite not making the NCAA Regionals as a team, three Knights earned spots to compete in the tournament. Leal, Groden and Williams are all set to travel to West Virginia for the Morgantown Regional on April 4.

“Well, me and my teammate tried to figure it out by ourselves and that didn’t work,” Groden said on how she discovered that she qualified. “So, I originally thought I didn’t make it so I was really excited when they called me and said ‘Hey, you made it.’”

Leal will perform on the vault, an apparatus on which she has excelled in throughout her career. The senior earned a 9.845 regional qualifying score.

Groden will compete all-around, where she has excelled at all season long. The Abbottstown, Pennsylvania, native picked up a 38.525 all-around total at the Big Ten Championships with career-bests on floor and vault.

“I feel like it’s an honor and something that I’ve worked really hard for, so I’m really proud,” Groden said.

After numerous quality performances on the uneven bars, Williams will compete in regionals for the third consecutive season.

Williams said she feels the experience from competing in the past years bolsters her confidence heading into Regionals this year.

“I think there’s a lot of competition and I think its nerve-racking going in on your own and not having the full support of your whole team there,” she said. “It’s just your coaches and two other teammates. It’s definitely not as fulfilling and it’s definitely not the same.”

Jones was selected as an alternate to perform on the balance beam.

Regionals will feel different from the regular season meets because the gymnasts will be competing for themselves, as individuals, rather than for their team,

But they will have the support of their other teammates who qualified.

“Yeah, I’m really excited that Jenna (Williams) and Luisa (Leal) will be there to support me and so I can support them,” Groden said. “They’ve done an awesome job this season, too.”

The postseason preparation began in practice this week. For Williams and Leal, they only have to work on getting ready for one event.

But as an all-arounder, Groden must be prepared to compete in all four events.

“It’s one event,” Williams said. “I competed the majority of the year in three events, so it is weird going in and just doing bars. It doesn’t feel the same as having your team there, competing more than one event, warming up with your team. Just everything about going to regionals is completely different.”

Williams said she is ready to perform in the competition, but emphasized a need to clean up her bar routine in order to be successful.

“Just perfecting my bars,” she said. “I mean, I obviously did really well at doing my bars this year, but if I can even think about going to Nationals, then I need to make sure that I pinpoint every single part of my routine and to perfect it as much as I can.”

As the three Knights venture on a quest to extend their postseason, Levine hopes the extra experience can allow them to grow further.

“Obviously, the goal is to have the whole team there, but the second-best thing is to have a group of individuals make it,” Levine said. “... It’s a chance to get some experience on a national stage. Hopefully, Jenna and Libby (Groden) can bring some of their experience back and help us to continue to improve in the future.”

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

Evan Bruno

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