Senior makes nationals at first Regionals

The Rutgers gymnastics team gained valuable postseason experience Saturday at the NCAA Regionals in Athens, Ga., earning a program-high 193.750 score to finish sixth behind Michigan, Georgia, Central Michigan, Ohio State and North Carolina State.

Senior Alexis Gunzelman’s season will continue after her second-place finish in the all-around automatically qualified her for NCAA nationals. 

Head coach Louis Levine praised Gunzelman’s consistency.

“She’s been consistent all season. She’s put up some of our best scores over and over again,” Levine said. “It’s a great accomplishment and cements her as probably the best all-arounder that we’ve had here.”

Gunzelman earned a team-high 9.775 score on balance beam and added a 9.800 on floor exercise, vault and uneven bars en route to a 39.175 in the all-around. She becomes just the second Scarlet Knight to qualify for nationals as an individual and the first since 2002.

“It’s really crazy. I never thought that I would make it to nationals,” Gunzelman said. “Finally everything came together and as a senior it’s really exciting to see how far I’ve come.”

Levine was happy with Rutgers’ overall performance.

“I thought we did a good job. We didn’t finish quite the way we wanted to on bars,” Levine said. “We did a really good job overall in that it was probably the best meet we had of the year on vault for sure. I thought we did [well] on floor and I thought our beam was good. Beam was judged hard all day. You had some of the top teams in the country and a 9.85 was the top score.”

Gunzelman, who anchored the Knights’ lineup on bars and beam, was proud of what her team accomplished.

“I think it was really good. We went in and our first three events, we rocked. There was no doubt about it,” Gunzelman said. “We were right there with the third, fourth and fifth place teams. Yeah, we got to bars and we messed up a little bit, but it’s good experience. They can take this and what they’ve learned this year and take it [into] next year.”

Freshman Claire Jones, who fell on her flight series, said that anxiety did play a factor.

“It was just the goal to get here,” Jones said “There [were] a lot of nerves [Saturday]. … We’ve never competed under such pressure against schools like Georgia. It was a lot for us to take in. As a freshman, that was tough. It wasn’t scary for me, it was just a lot of nerves.”

Mentally after the fall, Jones had a choice — let the early fall get stuck in her head or fight through her next two events. She posted a 9.775 on floor and a 9.700 on vault to help her team into fifth place headed into the final rotation.

“For my fall, I knew that I had two more events left,” Jones said. “At least 50 of my friends and family were there. I was just like, ‘OK, I have two events left. I can sit here and pout or we can come in third.’ I wasn’t going to whine about it.”

The Gaffney, S.C., native was upset with herself for coming off the beam and putting the pressure on Gunzelman to hit her routine.

“I was more upset for Alexis, because for her last meet with us as a senior, she shouldn’t have to go up there thinking, ‘if I fall, we have to count two falls,’” Jones said. “That’s not how I want my teammate to go out.”

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