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Maccabiah Games meet pays dividends for rookie

<p>Senior Alexis Gunzelman, above, said freshman Charly Santagado’s work ethic is reminiscent of when Gunzelman was a rookie.</p>

Senior Alexis Gunzelman, above, said freshman Charly Santagado’s work ethic is reminiscent of when Gunzelman was a rookie.

For many, three road meets in a row is a tiring sequence. For Rutgers gymnastics freshman Charly Santagado, trips to Texas and Washington, D.C., are nothing compared to her visit to the 19th Maccabiah Games last July.

The distance from her home in Florida to Jerusalem is over 6,500 miles point-to-point. It was well worth it as she earned four medals in the games known as the Jewish Olympics.

She came back to the States with a gold on uneven bars, silver on floor exercise and bronze in both vault and the all-around competition.

She was victorious despite using different equipment and not having her coaches at the tournament.

“I had to stay mentally strong because there were a lot of obstacles to overcome and they also were very much anti-American so anything we did wrong, we were getting in trouble for,” Santagado said. “[The fans] are obviously trying to make the Israelis win because they were home.”

According to Santagado, the hostile environment helped ease her transition to collegiate gymnastics.

In addition to the standard equipment in NCAA gymnastics and having her coaches at the meet, she stressed how important competing with a team is — a luxury she did not have in Israel.

“It’s an advantage where we are all together,” Santagado said. “The team makes it easier to adjust to things because you realize the [road meets] are not as different as you think. Really it’s all the same, except the crowd.”

The games occur every four years in Jerusalem and are open to Jewish athletes as well as Israelis of any religion. Hosted since 1950, Olympians including Kerri Strug, Mark Spitz and Abie Grossfeld have taken part in the games.

After a poor performance in her collegiate debut, resulting in scores of 8.3 on the bars and 9.7 on the floor, Santagado has steadily improved.

She has competed in every meet this season in those events while also performing on the vault at Texas Women’s University at the beginning of February.

Santagado’s highest scores of the season came last weekend in the Scarlet Knights’ win at George Washington.

She placed in the top three on both the bars and the floor exercise with a 9.825 and 9.775, respectively, placing her behind only senior Alexis Gunzelman in each.

“She reminds me a lot of myself as a freshman,” Gunzelman said. “She gets very dedicated in the gym and committed. After showing up with an injury early in the year, a lot of it has been gaining her confidence back and I think now she is really started to show through on her routines and she’s getting the scores as well.”

Head coach Louis Levine also mentioned her early season injury.

“She’s been competing and getting better and better,” Levine said. “Obviously, she has a great bar routine and has been consistent on floor all year.”

Santagado spoke of her own progress as well, but worried about fatigue setting in.

“I think I’ve already started to get better at competing,” Santagado said. “We’ve done six meets and back in high school that’s all we did for the whole season, so we’re getting more and more competition experience and getting more comfortable with competing.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow Justin Lesko on Twitter @JLeskoRU.  For general Rutgers sports updates, follow @TargumSports.

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