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Knights battle for season-opening lineup spots

<p>Junior Alyssa Straub competes on the bars during a meet at the Livingston Recreation Center last season. She is in her first season as a captain.</p>

Junior Alyssa Straub competes on the bars during a meet at the Livingston Recreation Center last season. She is in her first season as a captain.

With only 15 preseason practices remaining before winter break, the Rutgers gymnastics team is accelerating its routines to ready itself to compete in a season-opening meet Jan. 6 in Durham, N.H.

Head coach Louis Levine anticipates a sprint to the end of the preseason.

“The goal is to be ready to compete by the end of those [15] practices, so that when we come back [from winter break], we can hit the ground running and really start off on the right foot for our first meet,” he said.

As an initial test to see how the squad performs its routines on a bigger stage, the Scarlet Knights compete in an intrasquad practice meet tomorrow, Levine said.

The expectation is for the Knights to put their hard work, particularly most recently on the floor and vault events, on display.

“That’ll be the first chance to really see how people perform in a little bit more pressure-packed situation on those events,” Levine said.

It also serves as an opportunity to gauge the team’s strongest lineups by dissecting the team’s depth, which could be the strongest in recent program history.

“People are kicking each other out of lineup spots, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s a really good thing,” said junior co-captain Alyssa Straub. “Everyone is pushing each other. We’re competitive within the squad, which I think is a big improvement from last year.”

As a first-time captain, Straub seeks to enforce a team culture of efficient work ethic in practice.

She stresses paying attention to detail to achieve consistency, which the team lacked at times last season.

“We’re trying to not just get through routines and make them, but try to perfect the little things,” Straub said. “It’s more of a theme — make sure we get through every assignment on every event in a timely manner.”

As the Knights approach their season-opening matchup with New Hampshire, they look to continue to build up their endurance and skills in performing floor routines.

They insist now is not the time to rest their bodies as they inch closer to where they need to be at the start of the season.

“This is really the beginning of us really starting to put numbers in on floor, in terms of routines,” Levine said. “We’ve been putting those numbers in on the other three events, and floor we hold back a little bit just because of how heavy and difficult on the body it can be. So really we need to just start pushing the artistic side of it, along with what we’ve been doing — making it bigger and better.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Greg Johnson on Twitter @GJohnsonTargum.

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