Senior enhances routine for NCAA Championships

<p>Senior Alexis Gunzelman has upgraded her bar sets in order to increase the difficulty of her routine for nationals. She is the first Knight to qualify since 2002.</p>

Senior Alexis Gunzelman has upgraded her bar sets in order to increase the difficulty of her routine for nationals. She is the first Knight to qualify since 2002.

The Rutgers gymnastics team saw its season finish at the conclusion of the NCAA Regionals on April 5, but for one gymnast, her season continues this weekend.

Senior Alexis Gunzelman scored a 39.175 in the all-around at regionals to place second and qualify for the NCAA Championships, where she will compete as an individual.

Gunzelman, who has competed in the all-around in all but one of 13 meets this season, travels to Birmingham, Ala., to finish out her collegiate gymnastics career.

The appearance at nationals is the first time in program history that a Scarlet Knight qualified for nationals in the all-around. She is also just the second national qualifier the Knights have had since Courtney Turner did so as a floor exercise finalist in 2002.

Gunzelman said the team pushed her throughout the season and that her appearance at nationals will help the program move forward.

“It’s really exciting for me to lay down the foundation for where this program wants to go,” Gunzelman said. “The team got to where they did this year and they helped me this entire year get to nationals. Never in a million years did I think I’d be going to nationals or be presented with this opportunity but … it’s honestly a great way to finish out my career.”

The Tabernacle, N.J., native will rotate with Florida throughout the competition and will start on vault, then a bye, uneven bars, balance beam, a second bye and finish on floor exercise.

Gunzelman was excited about being able to follow the Olympic rotation that has also been the home meet.

“I get to start off on vault, which takes some of the nerves away. I get to start on a power event, then calm down [and] then finish strong [on floor],” she said. “I’ve been training this rotation schedule for the past two weeks so I’m ready for it.”

Gunzelman has spent the past two weeks working on consistency within her routines and on sticking all of her landings — particularly on vault and bars.

Assistant coach Umme Salim-Beasley, who has worked with Gunzelman particularly on upgrading her bars set, said that the focus was on her form and making improvements to her routine.

“She really wanted to upgrade her difficulty from last year,” Salim-Beasley said. “She did that by adding another major release move, which just makes her routine more impressive. She wanted to really clean up her form and get rid of the little deductions. She worked a lot on making sure she hit handstands and [sticking her] landings.”

Gunzelman brings another advantage to nationals.

She has competed as an individual at regionals in the all-around as a sophomore and junior, which she says is a much different experience than a regular competition.

“It’s definitely going to be difficult because after you finish your routine or as you’re doing your routine, you always look at your team,” Gunzelman said. “You always see them cheering and it gets you excited to compete just for them and show it off for them. … You’re excited with them.”

Head coach Louis Levine said that as a coach, the dynamic is different between coaching the team and coaching one gymnast at an event.

“When you’re there as an individual, you’re actually competing with another team,” Levine said. “This weekend we’re with Florida. We’re working within their team dynamic a little bit. They’re going to make Alexis feel like she’s a part of their team.”

The former walk-on’s appearance at the national championships gives the Knights a standard to follow and a new goal for next season.

“It shows how much improvement we’ve made, and it gives the other girls something to strive for. They’ve seen what Alexis does every day in the gym and how hard she works,” Levine said. “If we can get a team to step up the way Alexis has stepped up, then we’ll be talking about the team going to nationals and not just Alexis going as an individual. I think in that [aspect] it sets up the team with something to strive for and who can be the next Alexis.”

For updates on the Rutgers gymnastics team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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