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Rutgers prepares for final home meet before Big Ten Championships

<p>Sophomore Jenna Rizkolla, a Bowling Green transfer, has been one of Rutgers' most consistent gymnasts on the floor exercise this season.</p>

Sophomore Jenna Rizkolla, a Bowling Green transfer, has been one of Rutgers' most consistent gymnasts on the floor exercise this season.

With its final home meet until it hosts the Big Ten Championships in the books, the Rutgers gymnastics team once again heads to Chicago, Illinois to take on the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) for a 2 p.m. dual meet on Sunday afternoon.

The Scarlet Knights (10-6, 1-4) are coming off a second-place finish behind Maryland, their fifth and final Big Ten event. Rutgers went 1-4 during its five-week stretch of conference play that saw powerhouses such as No. 16 Nebraska, No. 19 Ohio State and No. 21 Illinois as well as formidable opponents in Maryland and Michigan State, a team the Knights ended up beating at the Rutgers Athletic Center for only their second conference win in three years.

Although their current record is not one Rutgers was hoping for coming out of that stretch, head coach Lou Levine thinks his team learned a lot from those meets and those experiences.

“You can learn from everything,” Levine said. “I think everything you do from one meet to the next and one practice and one turn — it’s all learning. It’s about learning, okay this is where it went wrong and (to) try and not to repeat that, (and) this is where it went right and trying to repeat that. We definitely will and have learned from it already.” 

After recording season highs on both vault and beam last week, a subpar performance on bars halted any chances for the Knights to go 2-3 over the five-week stretch.

Nonetheless, Levine and his team are confident they will begin hitting their stride over the second half of the season.

“Yes. I think that just continuing to practice the way we want to compete will help us at the end of the day in competition,” sophomore Michelle Amoresano said when asked whether she was confident that her team is where they need to be mentally and physically.

Nobody seems to have more confidence than Levine.

“I feel like we are ready to take off, literally and figuratively,” he said. “We had some really good steps forward this weekend, and I’m hoping we’ve gained some momentum so far with what we’ve done.”

Sophomore Jenna Rizkalla has been one of the team's best and most consistent option for the floor exercise this season. The Bowling Green transfer is proving to be a key part of this Rutgers team as it closes out the season.

When asked if the different start time and day can affect their preparation, Rizkalla had a different outlook.

“I think it will help since we get that extra day of practice just to go over the little details and everything,” Rizkalla said. “I definitely think we will use that extra day to focus on those things.”

Nevertheless, Rizkalla is always looking to go out there and have fun.

“I’m definitely having a lot of fun out there — that’s the best way to do it you just go out there and have fun,” she said. “I see my teammates cheering me on, and dancing along with me so there is definitely a lot of energy, and it brings everyone’s mood up. It’s just the best way to compete.”

Having traveled to Chicago and seeing UIC once already this season in a quad meet that also included Illinois and Eastern Michigan, Rutgers is going in there with added experience.

Because of this, the Knights feel they are better prepared and can perform at a higher level.

“I think it does give us an advantage,” Amoresano said. “I think that we’ve seen the potential that they have, but mainly just focusing on us is the most important part so if we have a good meet than the results will be good.”

Levine is impressed with his team’s attitude and echoed some of the sentiments made by his gymnasts.

Despite the team's record, morale has been high and the gymnasts have been pushing each other to improve every day. With positive attitudes all around, Rutgers will try to close the season on a high note.

“We’ve really created a great atmosphere on this team,” he said. “Pushing each other day in and day out, and doing so with a positive attitude. We obviously need to keep making improvements in the second half of the season, but we’ve made some great strides so far this year.”

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

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