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Rutgers prepares for 1st away Big Ten competition against Iowa

Coming off of a stellar home opener in Piscataway, N.J. last weekend, the Rutgers gymnastics team is looking to dominate in Iowa City as the Scarlet Knights compete against Iowa on Saturday at 5 p.m. 

In its last competition, Rutgers narrowly lost to No. 15 Nebraska, but boasted its best score of the season with a 194.325. The Knights recorded multiple career highs, including senior Riahanah Ali and sophomore Belle Huang posting a 9.925 to win the floor exercise. Both of their scores were the highest in the Big Ten this past week of competition.

“I think we really took it one event at a time and focused on that event and each routine,” said senior Jenna Rizkalla. “I just think we stayed together as a group. We had a lot of really good energy the whole time and just stayed pumped up in the meet. We didn't get distracted, and our floor event was one of the top three floor scores in school history that we've had."

In the all-around scores of the meet, senior Michelle Amoresano totaled a career high of 39.025 while Huang competed in all four events with a score of 38.725 to add major points for Rutgers.

The Knights are taking note of the small details that lost them points over the weekend and are looking to raise the scores in all of their events — particularly events that they struggled with in their home opener.

“Something we can improve on would be more confidence on bars and on beam,” said sophomore Toni Williams. “They're a little bit more of the calmer events, but still being aggressive and showing confidence in how well we can do those two events can really help us a lot.”

As the season progresses, Rutgers isn't looking out into the distance any time soon. Specific big-picture goals are seeded into the gymnasts, but in order for those goals to grow into reality, the Knights will work on picking apart their routines and building them back up. 

“We don't set goals for the entire season,” said head coach Umme Salim-Beasley. “We look at each meet as it comes, so when we have a weekend meet coming up in Iowa, we look at the little things that we needed to improve on from the week prior and try to make sure that we're able to accomplish those little things in the next competition."

The Hawkeyes have competed in four duals, but have lost the past two competitions against New Hampshire and Minnesota. Iowa's highest team score of the season so far is a 194.700 with its one win against Southeast Missouri State.

In previous seasons, the Hawkeyes have scored consistently above 195 points, but they're off to a pretty rocky start this year. They have yet to score more than 195, and Rutgers is quickly building up to that score.

“Ensuring that we're making quick connections on the skills that are giving us bonus value are things that we're really focusing on," Salim-Beasley said. "Because those little tenths of a point add up, and it was the difference between us winning the meet and finishing slightly behind."

The last time the Knights took on Iowa was back in 2017 at a Big Five meet hosted by the Hawkeyes alongside conference foes Michigan, Penn State and Minnesota. Rutgers finished last with Iowa coming in second. 

But the Knights have built a new foundation and culture this season. The team is riding on a high after last weekend and will look to continue that momentum against their Midwest competition.

“This new coaching staff was able to build trust, and so we as a team really trust in what they have planned for us,” Rizkalla said. “All of preseason, we really bought into what they were saying and I think that it showed in this past meet. All of the hard work that we put in, what they told us to do and actually executing it really helped us.”

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

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