Program-record vault score leads to Rutgers win in tri-meet

<p>Senior Alexis Gunzelman earned a career-high 39.35 all-around score as the Knights faced injuries to juniors Luisa Leal and bars specialist Emma Hoffman.</p>

Senior Alexis Gunzelman earned a career-high 39.35 all-around score as the Knights faced injuries to juniors Luisa Leal and bars specialist Emma Hoffman.

What a difference a week made for the Rutgers gymnastics team.

The Scarlet Knights responded to their first loss of the season with their highest vault score in program history Sunday and a career day from senior Alexis Gunzelman.

Their team score of 194.5 in Washington, D.C., was enough to top William & Mary’s 194.375. Tri-meet host and conference foe George Washington came in third with a 193.3.

For the fourth-straight meet, Gunzelman scored over a 39 in the all-around competition.

Gunzelman was the only Knight to compete all-around and had meet highs on the uneven bars, 9.875, and balance beam, 9.85.

She also came in second on the floor exercise with a 9.8 to George Washington’s Kayla Carto, who scored a 9.85.

Her success is a testament to her work ethic and experience, according to head coach Louis Levine.

“It just speaks to what Alexis is about. She works hard every single day and it’s paying off. She’s a senior so there is a lot of experience,” Levine said. “It’s just Alexis being Alexis.”

Her career-high 39.35 came at a time when injuries threatened the Knights’ early-season progress.

Juniors Luisa Leal and uneven bars specialist Emma Hoffman were sidelined following injuries that occurred Feb. 1 at Texas Women’s University.

Freshman April Baker has been out with an injury since the team’s second meet.

“I am very excited about [my score]. It’s not something I can hide,” Gunzelman said. “Luisa is a big loss for us, and so are Emma and April. A lot of it was just focusing on the fact that I need to step up as a senior and a captain for our team, and I need to help get first place and get a better team score.”

Freshman Charly Santagado admitted feeling more pressure because of the injuries but does not think it affected the team negatively.

“I think the coaches really tried to take that off of us and not make us feel that pressure,” Santagado said. “Everyone has a spot to step up in. There was some added pressure but I think everyone stepped up and handled it well.”

She was just behind Gunzelman on the bars with a 9.825 and a 9.775 on floor, both career highs.

Freshman Claire Jones led the record-setting vault performance with a 9.9, followed by senior Alyssa Straub’s 9.875. Gunzelman and sophomore Nicolette Wilson continued with 9.825 scores.

It was the team’s highest scoring single event all season.

“Really it was a matter of everyone hitting it,” Levine said. “We actually put Alyssa Straub back in the lineup for the first time this year. She has been one of our better vaulters for the last three and a half years, so her first meet of the year she hit. Claire Jones obviously did an amazing job. Everyone really hit vault pretty well.”

Conversely, the Knights continued their struggles on the balance beam. Gunzelman had the top score but the next four spots belonged to William & Mary.

Senior Jenna Zito and Straub had the next highest scores with 9.65s each, followed by sophomore Claudia Salinas with a 9.625 in her first appearance of the season.

“Beam is all confidence,” Levine said. “We just have to keep pushing through and pushing numbers.”

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

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