Rutgers surpasses Michigan State, Cornell, Ursinus to place first
After a rather sluggish start to the season, the Rutgers gymnastics team has kicked into third gear and is riding a huge wave of momentum, which was evident to the home crowd on Saturday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC).
After only their second Big Ten win in three years and their first time beating Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights (8-4, 1-2) walked away with a first-place finish ahead of the Spartans, Ursinus and Cornell.
“We’ve all had such a great friendship this whole preseason and season, but it seems like we’re finally all on the same page,” said senior Claire Jones. “It’s just a good feeling.”
With a total score of 194.875, a new season high breaking last week’s score, Rutgers did not let anything get in its way — not even a somewhat slow start on the vault with a score of 48.350.
“Just their resolve,” head coach Louis Levine said, on what has impressed him the most about the team. “We never let anything get in the way of us performing the way we need to.”
After one rotation and a second-place start, the Knights took to the uneven bars where they scored a 48.725 season-high, highlighted by senior April Baker’s 9.800, good for second place on the night.
Still in second after two rotations, Rutgers had the beam and floor exercises still to come, routines that have been irregular for the Knights all season.
But after scoring a 48.725 on the beam, helped out by junior Makenzey Shank’s meet-best 9.875, Rutgers assumed first place and held it the rest of the night.
“We’re definitely starting to hit our groove,” Shank said. “We’re really getting in the hang of things and we’re supporting each other and we’re definitely gaining a lot more confidence.”
With one event left and the home crowd cheering for them every step of the way, it seemed like the Knights were poised to take this one.
“I love the RAC,” Shank said. “I think it’s way more loud, a lot of energy, we have the music going on and we can see everyone supporting us.”
The floor routines definitely gave the crowd something to cheer for as Rutgers scored another season high score of 49.075, this time Jones stepping up with a second place score of 9.875.
“The biggest thing we’ve been talking about is positivity and it’s finally all just coming in,” Jones said.
The energy and positivity emanating from the rafters put into perspective the experience of competing at the RAC.
“The energy was huge,” Jones said. “This is my last meet here as a senior and we basically said whatever happens, happens but you have to make it fun.”
There was definitely no shortage of fun as many fans were seen with Hawaiian leis and flower clips as the Knights celebrated “Coach Lou’s Luau." Even Levine got in on the fun, sporting a red and white Hawaiian shirt.
“Everybody keeps telling me this is my lucky shirt and that I got to wear it more often,” Levine said. “We’re going to do this every time if we keep competing like this.”
All around, it was a great night for the Rutgers squad and its fans.
“It was a great meet,” Levine said. “It was a close meet the whole way through and it's great to come out with a victory. This was a great go and we’re going to keep going.”
For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.