Records highlight coach’s first season for Rutgers

<p>Sophomore Alexis Gunzelman competed in the all-around this season for the Knights, with whom she set a Rutgers record with a 39.125 mark at the EAGL Championships.</p>

Sophomore Alexis Gunzelman competed in the all-around this season for the Knights, with whom she set a Rutgers record with a 39.125 mark at the EAGL Championships.

As the Rutgers gymnastics team’s 2012 season began, those within the program viewed it for what it was: a passing of the torch.

After 25 years with the Scarlet Knights, former head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton resigned and former assistant coach Louis Levine took her place. In the first year of the Levine era, the new coach had pretty big shoes to fill.

Last year’s squad broke the program record for most wins in a season (20) and had recorded the highest score in Rutgers history at the season-ending EAGL Championships.

It was not long before Levine hit significant bumps in the road in his attempt to re-create last year’s success. Sophomore Luisa Leal — named EAGL Rookie of the Year last season after one of the most productive freshman campaigns in program history — competed in only the first three meets of the season. She would not compete again this season.

“This year was tough with injuries to some of our best performers early on,” Levine said. “Luisa is one of the best gymnasts in the country, and when you lose one of the best gymnasts in the country, it is obviously going to be tough. The team responded. We learned who was going to step up and fill those roles.”

With the spot of team leader up for grabs, the early portion of the season was yet another passing of the torch. As the season progressed, Leal’s classmate, Alexis Gunzelman, took the role and ran with it.

Competing in the all-around for the Knights at every meet, the sophomore consistently led the team. Her career-high score of 39.125 at the EAGL Championships landed her a tie for fifth, the highest-ever placing by a Rutgers gymnast in program history.

“I started out really strong this year. I definitely had my ups and downs, and I struggled a little bit. When I actually focused on what I wanted to do, that’s when I rally started competing,” Gunzelman said. “To be able to compete all-around every weekend was a great plus for me. I could help the team as much as I can.”

Gunzelman was not the only one who put her name into the school’s record books. As a team, the Knights’ season-high score of 193.850 was the highest team score at EAGL’s in program history, surpassing last year’s record-breaking finish.

For Levine, the culmination of his first season was exactly what he hoped for when it began.

“The goal the entire year was to improve every week, from meet to meet,” Levine said. “We obviously accomplished that getting our highest score in our last meet. I look forward to having everyone healthy next year and seeing what we can accomplish.”

Putting scores and records aside, the Knights this season were performers more than anything else. For proof, look no farther than their core event this season, the floor exercise. Floor was consistently Rutgers’ highest scoring event for the majority of the season.

Levine chalked it up to the team’s love to entertain.

Sometimes to get the best results, all he had to do was stand back and let the team do what it enjoyed the most.

“Our team loves to perform, hands down. Floor is really where they get to go out there and show off their personality,” Levine said. “It was our strength all season, and it continued with one great performance after another.”

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