Rutgers rocks RAC in tri-meet on Senior Night
With the lights dimmed down, music blasting and fog machines blowing, the Rutgers gymnastics team emerged from the darkness ready for a fight.
Four seniors — Anastasia Halbig, Emma Hoffman, Luisa Leal and Sara Skammer — ran through the red smoke to take the floor one last time in Piscataway.
“I kind of teared up a little bit,” Hoffman said. “I just looked at Sara (Skammer) and said, ‘This is the moment we’ve been waiting for.' Since freshman year we’ve been talking about (competing at the RAC), and it just never happened. For it to happen for senior day, it was just really great.”
Leal became emotional as well when she jogged through the entryway in front of the student section at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
“That was a very emotional moment, Leal said. “I was kind of crying. ... I always wanted to feel the home meets being so big, you know, lights out, smoke, crazy big arena, scoreboards with our faces and it happened. The fact that it happened for Senior Meet — it was just perfect.”
Inside of a breathtaking atmosphere with a large crowd of 1,477 at hand, the Scarlet Knights returned to the RAC and they did not disappoint.
The team scored a total 195.200 to earn a first place finish over Bridgeport and Westchester. The meet was the second time this season that Rutgers broke the 195 threshold.
“It was a good step,” head coach Louis Levine said. “It was a really strong finish. ... They kept pushing hard, they were aggressive all the way through the end and, you know, it’s a 195 score that we really needed.”
With her mother in attendance for the first time in her collegiate career, Leal had a performance for the ages. The fifth-year senior posted a 9.850 to finish first on vault, a 9.725 on the balance beam and a 9.875 on the floor exercise.
Leal said her mother’s presence and her family had an effect on her performance, but she kept her mind clear during the competition.
“I mean, I thought about it when I was walking in, when I was warming up because I was like, 'Where are they? I need to see their faces,'” said Leal. “But I’ve been competing for so long that I know exactly when to get in the zone and what to focus in. When I’m at my place and that means when I’m really focusing, I don’t think about scores, screaming or cameras. It’s just that event or that apparatus and me ... I did think about them, but it wasn’t on my mind when I was doing flips.”
Leal was especially happy with her floor routine because she had the gym to all to herself and was able to put on a show for the home crowd.
“My floor, I really enjoyed my floor,” Leal said. “... When competing floor at your home school, you can get the crowd involved. It’s not just doing a routine, it’s not just getting a score, it’s putting on a show. If you make them enjoy it, if you make the judges enjoy it they forget that they’re judging and that’s what I wanted to do. ... I was asking the crowd to speak louder, and I think it worked out because people started to go crazy.”
Hoffman also put on an impressive performance. The senior captain scored a 9.150 on the uneven bars and a 9.875 on the floor exercise.
“I’m most proud of my floor just because I had a little bit of a mistake on bars,” said Hoffman. “I pulled it together and ended up having my career-high on floor and finished with a bang.”
Skammer and Halbig executed solid routines along with Hoffman and Leal to cap off their careers at home. Skammer had a 9.100 on the uneven bars and a strong 9.725 on vault. Halbig put up a 9.775 after an excellent event on the balance beam.
Levine was very happy that the girls could go out in such a tremendous fashion.
“The four of them work hard and they love gymnastics," Levine said. "... They all had their bright spots and some things we’d like to do a little better next time, but overall, to end the meet breaking a team record on floor, you can’t really ask for too much more. I’m happy for them and they’ve had really great careers.”
With the season nearly over, the Knights will have to move forward and look toward some talented underclassmen to lead the way. Two of them in particular had sound performances.
Sophomore Claire Jones posted a career high 9.900 on the floor and a 9.850 on the balance beam. Junior Jenna Williams scored a 9.875 on the uneven bars to set a new career best and earn first place in the event. She put up a 9.200 on the uneven bars as well.
Levine would love to see his team perform at the RAC again in the near future and believes his team’s performance on Saturday will help them moving forward into meets in weeks ahead.
“It’s great, it's big time,” Levine said. “It’s big time, Big Ten gymnastics and that’s what we’re trying to be, and that’s what we’re all about.
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