Pre-meet injury dampens Rutgers’ performance

On an afternoon when fans packed bleachers inside the Livingston Recreation Center, the Rutgers gymnastics team faced high expectations in its first home quad meet of the season.

The Scarlet Knights (4-2) defeated Penn and Ursinus on Saturday to capture second place with a score of 192.925, but fell short of Bridgeport, which won the meet with a score of 194.100.

Coming off a tri-meet victory score of 193.900 on Jan. 12 — their highest team score in nearly two years — the Knights looked to duplicate that performance. But they would have to do so without senior co-captain Jenna Zito, injured during team warm-ups.

It was not an easy void to fill, said senior Danielle D’Elia.

“She has a really, really big impact on our team. She really makes a difference and without her it’s going to be hard,” D’Elia said. “That’s what we’ve been talking about as a team. Someone always has to step up and that’s why we are a team.”

Freshman Jenna Williams delivered strong performances in several events. She matched a career-best 9.850 score on the uneven bars to take first place individually and also took third on vault with a career-high 9.850 routine.

Williams, recently named EAGL Rookie of the Week, was the only Knight to score at least a 9.800 in more than one event and has quickly become a fixture in Rutgers’ early season success.

“She’s doing exactly what I expected her to do on vault and bars, and on beam she’s exceeded my expectation,” said head coach Louis Levine. “She’s really been one of the people leading our team through this.”

But two Knights fell from the bars during their routines, including D’Elia, who was disappointed after putting together two strong routines on bars in the first two meets.

The event was a focal point of improvement for the team in the offseason. Levine believes that if it can achieve a more consistency on bars, Rutgers can compete with any team in the country in the event.

“It was just a bad day. I don’t think it’s a sign of things to come,” Levine said. “Danielle was a millimeter away from having a 9.900 bar routine.”

Despite the incomplete performance on bars, the Knights do not point to a few miscues in one event as the reason they did not finish in first place.

“I think we left so much out there that we could’ve done better on,” said junior co-captain Alexis Gunzelman.

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