Rutgers returns to home gym to host regional rivals

The Rutgers gymnastics team can finally unpack its bags.

The Scarlet Knights return to the Livingston Gym tomorrow for the first time in nearly a month after competing on the road in their previous three meets.

“It is really exciting,” senior Alexis Gunzelman said of competing at home. “I think it’s going to help because it’s somewhere that we are comfortable with and that we know the crowd, we know the equipment. So I think it’s going to be really good for us.”

The Knights face their toughest competitor this season in No. 20 Penn State.

Rutgers likely needs to post a score close to the 195.275 in did in Columbus on Jan. 19, when it topped Ohio State, in order to come away with a win against Penn State.

The Knights will almost certainly need a better score than the 193.025 they posted in their last home meet Jan. 24 against Brown.

Penn State is averaging a 195.389 to put it in fifth place in the highly competitive Big Ten conference. The Nittany Lions rank top-25 nationally in all four events.

They have scored better than 196 in their past three meets, while Rutgers has not eclipsed the 195 mark since Jan. 19 at Ohio State. Injuries have plagued the Knights in that time span.

Head coach Louis Levine was not certain if any of Rutgers’ injured gymnasts — juniors Luisa Leal and Emma Hoffman and freshman April Baker — would be back in the lineup.

But he sounded more optimistic than in previous weeks.

“There’s a decent chance we’ll get one of them, if not two of them, back this week. … Trying to get healthier, that’s what it’s about right now,” Levine said. “Trying to get through some injuries and people are doing a great job of stepping up. Hopefully, we’ll get some healthy people back and we’ll see.”

Leal and Hoffman were both injured Feb. 1 at Texas Women’s University, while Baker has been sidelined with an apparent ankle injury in the second meet of the season Jan. 17 at Kent State.

Senior Alexis Gunzelman has stepped up as the team’s only all-around competitor in their absence, with the exception of a poor performance last weekend at Penn.

She earned a season-low score of 38.025 due to falls on balance beam and floor.

“I think that’s the important thing I need to focus on — rebuilding my confidence this week as well as rebuilding the confidence the team has in me,” Gunzelman said.

The Knights also host Temple and Ursinius in the quad meet. With a first-place finish, Rutgers would pass the 1978 team for the best record in program history through 14 meets.

The 1978 team finished 16-2 — the best in team history.

“I think we’ve done a good job so far,” Levine said. “I remember five years ago when we would have thrown a party for scoring 193. It’s how far the program has progressed and they’re not happy with that many points so they want to keep getting better and better.”

Freshman Claire Jones is not focusing on the team’s record. She is just happy to be back in the Garden State.

“We had really good practice so we’re really excited about this home meet,” Jones said.

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

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