July 15, 2019 | 73° F

Three gymnasts represent Rutgers at Regionals

Photo by Yingjie Hu |

Senior Luisa Leal closed her career at Rutgers with a 9.8 in the vault while competing in the NCAA Regionals in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Luisa Leal will don her Rutgers gymnastics gear for one last time on Saturday.

The fifth-year senior will compete in the NCAA Regionals for the fourth time in her career, looking to put on a show for her final performance. Leal says it has dawned on her that this time suiting up could very well be her last.

“Yes, I keep thinking about it,” said Leal. “It’s going to be the last one, one vault and that’s it. But I’m at peace with it. I think I had a great career here. I think I did as best as I could. I’m very pleased with all of the seasons that I’ve had, the records I’ve broke and with the teams that I got to be a part of. I think I’m ready, I’m okay with being done. I’m happy to go into the next chapter of my life.”

Leal will be competing on vault, an apparatus she has become accustomed to throughout her career. She currently holds the vault record at Rutgers and executed a 9.900 routine at Towson this past February.

Despite her accomplishments on vault, Leal aspires to do something she says she has never done in her collegiate career –– stick her landing, or keep her feet still after landing her vault.

“A vault is pretty much four seconds,” Leal said. “That’s all it is, so I just have to enjoy it. You know, it’s the last one. Just have fun with it, do as best as I can, stick it. Oh my God, I really want to stick it. I really, really want to stick it because I still haven’t stuck a vault in the five years that I’ve been here. I’ve done good vaults, but it’s never been a stuck vault and I really want to stick it so, hopefully it’ll happen this weekend.”

This deep into the season, injuries are starting to take their toll.

Leal has been resting and taking it easy in practice in order to get her body healed and healthy. The two-week layoff between the Big Ten Championships and Regionals has given Leal a chance to become ready.

“I’m going to be honest, I’m not the healthiest right now,” she said. “We have been taking (practice) a little bit easy because we need to get there and the competition vault is the most important one. So, everything that we have done these past two weeks is just to try to maintain me. … Yes, I’m not the healthiest, so it’s mostly been quality over quantity (in practice).”

Head coach Louis Levine said he is glad that Leal will wrap up her career on one of the biggest stages in college gymnastics.

“She’s obviously been here for five years,” Levine said. “She’s done a lot of great things with the program. She’s set several records and having the person who set your vault record be the person in vault at regionals, I think it’s pretty fitting.”

Leal’s teammates, freshman Elizabeth Groden and junior Jenna Williams, will join her in Morgantown, West Virginia, at Regionals.

Williams will be making her third appearance in three consecutive seasons in the competition. She will be performing on the uneven bars.

“It’s pretty cool, I guess,” Williams said on her third appearance. “I mean, it sucks that I couldn’t make it with my whole team like I did last year, but it’s a pretty great feeling.”

Levine has been very impressed with Williams’ consistency on the apparatus this season.

“The consistency,” he said. “I think she messed up in the first meet and that was it all year on bars. She, as a freshman, was the same way and then last year, she had shoulder surgery after her freshman year, so it took us until this year to get back to where she pretty much left off where she was as a freshman this year. Every meet, routine to routine, she was rocking bar routines. You could see the confidence grow ... she expected herself to do great everytime.”

Williams has been working hard to put up a good routine and will stick to the same game plan she has used all year at Regionals.

“Exactly what I’ve been doing all year,” she said. “I mean, maybe focus on more of the smaller details, make sure my toes are pointed, make sure my legs are straight and be more precise on the routine. I think that’ll be good.”

Groden qualified for regionals in just her first season at Rutgers and will compete as an all-arounder at the event. She had one of her best performances of the season at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago where she compiled a 38.525 all-around total with career bests on floor and vault.

Levine says Groden’s biggest strength is the way she composes herself in the gym.

“She’s a really hard worker,” said Levine. “She just comes in and does what she needs to do on a daily basis. She’s very even-keeled and just there’s not too many too highs, there’s not too many ... lows and she’s just very consistent on a day to day basis and that really is probably one of her biggest strengths.”

Out of all of the events, Groden is most excited to compete on the uneven bars.

“I’m looking forward to competing bars because I’m putting in a new dismount,” Groden said. “So, I’m really excited for that. I’m really excited. I think it’ll be a fun meet and I can’t wait to go out and do my best.

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

Evan Bruno

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