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RU brings depth into new season

In a transition year that saw a changing of the guard at head coach last season, the Rutgers gymnastics team had much to adjust to.

With injuries and adversity, the Scarlet Knights responded with improvement in each meet and aim to continue that trend entering their 2012-2013 season.

Last season culminated in March, when the Knights peaked and posted the highest team score at the EAGL Championships in program history. But they do not want to stop there.

“One of the goals of the whole team when the girls came in this year was wanting to start where we left off, not take a step back and have to build up,” said second-year head coach Louis Levine, “but to really start in that range of where we’re able to get up there with some confidence and show off what we have.”

For the Knights to keep moving forward and win more competitions, they need to hone in on improving one of their glaring weaknesses — the uneven bars event.

“We could compete with every team we faced in the other three events and bars was our Achilles’ heel,” Levine said.

With about a month and a half left until the season opener, the team has ample time to work out its kinks. The squad continues to build up its endurance, skills and floor routines, Levine said.

The Knights are not worried about conquering the uneven bars.

“This year we honestly are already starting to look so much stronger on bars, and it’s only November, so to say that is a huge plus,” said junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman. “I think that we’re all going to be in shape. We’re all going to push ourselves as hard as we can to be that top team.”

The depth of the roster also leaves room for optimism.

“Right now we have somewhere between about 10-12 girls who are fighting for spots,” Levine said. “Last year we were pushing to get six or seven. The depth that creates that friendly competition between each other is really going to help us out. We’re prepared a little bit earlier than we were last year.”

Senior co-captain Jenna Zito, who took home EAGL Second Team All-Floor Exercise honors last season, focuses on maximizing the team’s success entering her final campaign and second stint as one of the team’s three captains.

She learned from her first season as a captain and is excited for an opportunity to improve in her role and continue to assist the team.

“I really just want to focus on the team for my last year,” Zito said. “I’ve had good years and I kind of want to take the focus off myself and really focus on getting everyone together as a team.”

Like Levine, she also sees the number of strong gymnasts as a strength entering the season. In light of this, the Knights set their expectations high.

“I think we have a lot of depth and a lot of good things going on,” Zito said. “I really would like to see us make a big appearance at our EAGL Championships. I’d like to see us finish in the top and make the NCAA Regionals.”

Individually, Gunzelman was the only Knight to qualify last season for the NCAA Regionals. The Tabernacle, N.J., native paced the team throughout the season, capturing EAGL Team MVP for the second straight year, as well as EAGL First Team All-Around and Second Team All-Floor Exercise and Uneven Bars.

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

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