July 20, 2018 | ° F

Rutgers seniors return to RAC for final home meet

Photo by Yangeng Lin |

Senior gymnast Luisa Leal will compete at home for the last time at the RAC. Leal, a native of Cali, Colombia will have her mother in attendance for the first time in her career on Senior Night. 

Gymnastics is back at the RAC.

The Rutgers women’s gymnastics team has been ascending through the college ranks for the last year to improve as a program. After hosting numerous sellouts at the Livingston Gym between the end of last season to now, the Scarlet Knights were rewarded.

Rutgers will compete at the Louis Brown Athletic Center for Senior Night on Saturday at 6 p.m. Four seniors, Emma Hoffman, Luisa Leal, Sara Skammer and Anastasia Halbig, will celebrate their collegiate careers in the most exciting way imaginable — competing in front of a potentially near-capacity crowd in the venue the program has been fighting to compete in for years.

“Yeah, this is definitely the highlight of all the home meets that we’ve had, just because we’ve been waiting for this since our freshman year,” said Hoffman. “There’s always been talk about putting us in the RAC, but it never actually happened. After last year, selling out so many meets, they decided to put us in for senior meet, so it’s really good.”

The Knights have not performed at the RAC in almost eight years. The last gymnastics meet held in the arena was the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championship on March 25 in 2006. Rutgers earned seventh place in the competition with a team total of 191.425.

Senior night will not only be special for the graduating gymnasts, but also for head coach Louis Levine. This group of seniors was Levine’s first recruiting class as the head coach of the team.

“It’s the class that came in when I started as a head coach,” Levine said. “They’ve been a part of what I’ve been pushing from the beginning. They’ve done a really good job, they’ve competed a ton as a class. There’s been two, if not three or four of them, in bar line up consistently throughout their careers. … They’ve been a major part of our improvement over the last four years, our making regionals last year, they’ve all been a big part of that.”

Although there could be more pre-game jitters than usual for his team, Levine believes competing at the RAC will give his team a huge sense of confidence and energy.

“I’m sad to see (the seniors) go away,” said Levine. “I think it’s exciting and they're excited. We’ve been talking about trying to compete over at the RAC for a while now and for it to be their senior meet, I think things are really special.”

West Chester, Bridgeport and Bowling Green will travel to Piscataway to take on the Knights (10-13, 0-8)

The Golden Rams of West Chester (8-8) are entering the meet on a hot streak. The Rams have won three consecutive meets, including last week’s victories at the Philadelphia Convention Center against Southern Connecticut State and Ursinus College by a score of 190.200-189.850-187.175.

Majesta Valentine and Cassandra Ringer were both named ECAC Gymnasts of the Week after their efforts last weekend.

Caitlin Perry of Bridgeport was awarded the ECAC Coaches’ Choice Award after putting up a 9.875 on the floor exercise and a 9.475 on vault during her team’s meet on Feb. 28 against Cornell and William and Mary. The Purple Knights swept the competition and earned first place.

Alyssa Nocella performed all-around for Bowling Green (5-7) last Saturday in its loss to Western Michigan. Nocella posted a 9.800 on the floor and a 9.775 on bars. The junior qualified for the NCAA regionals in 2013 and 2014 and earned First Team All-MAC honors last season.

Rutgers posted a 194.850 last weekend at Towson in a quad meet for a second place finish. Leal scored a remarkable 9.800 mark on the floor exercise in her season debut in the event.

The fifth-year senior was extremely happy with her routine.

“Because I’ve been waiting for it so long, you know,” Leal said on her debut. “They told me I was going to be in the lineup and I wasn’t expecting it so, I had to get my mind ready. ... I knew I had it in me but, I haven’t competed in floor for so long that, you know, there’s always that little doubt.”

The team captain also excelled on vault with a 9.900 total and helped her team compile a 48.975 mark which matched a season high.

“Of course vault was a pretty good one (routine) that I had been working on for the whole year,” she said.

Hoffman had a solid performance on the floor exercise as well. She posted a 9.825 individual total and led Rutgers to a 48.900 team score.

“I’m most proud of my floor routine because I got one of my highest scores,” Hoffman said. “I think that even though it wasn’t my best routine, I performed it well, so it was good for me.”

Saturday night should present a thrilling evening for the Knights, but the senior gymnasts will have to face the approaching reality that their gymnastics careers at Rutgers are nearly over.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” said Hoffman. “Especially with the seniors. We’ve been with each other for our entire college careers and it’s sad to see it all come to an end. Hopefully we go out with a bang and get a win this weekend.”

Leal will have an especially emotional end to her collegiate career on Saturday. She emigrated from Cali, Colombia, nearly eight years ago and her mother will finally take the trip up to Piscataway to see her daughter compete in-person for the first time.

Leal agrees with Hoffman that Senior Night will be both a happy and sad occasion.

“(It’s) bittersweet you know,” Leal said on performing in her last home meet. “We’re all here for four years, I was here for five. The great thing about college is graduating and all of that. You strive for that. To know that it’s your last home meet ever, it’s pretty emotional and pretty sad. We’ve been asking for so long … from athletics to take us (to the RAC) and it finally happened and for it be my senior meet, it’s pretty great.”

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

Evan Bruno

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