Rutgers to compete against 4 Big Ten schools in Ohio
The Rutgers gymnastics team will travel to Toledo, Ohio for the Big Five Meet against No. 8 Michigan, No. 14 Minnesota, No. 22 host Ohio State and Illinois. The competition, also known as the Elevate the Stage meet, will begin at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights will compete in a condensed preview of what’s to come at their Big Ten Championships toward the end of the season.
Instead of a dual meet in which Rutgers will alternate one-by-one alongside its opponents, all five teams will rotate between events at the same time. Additionally, the Knights will have to compete well during Saturday’s session in the hopes of qualifying for the night session at the Big Ten Championships on March 23.
The top six Big Ten teams compete in the night session for podium spots, while the other four teams compete in an earlier session.
“It’s a different format than what we are used to doing, but we actually prefer the quad meet trial because it’s constant action,” said head coach Umme Salim-Beasley. “You’re not really having to stand around and wait for another routine to be done for another team. When the judges are ready, you go. It’s a much quicker pace meet and the excitement level tends to be a little bit higher.”
In its last recent dual meet, Rutgers posted a 194.100 against Michigan State, but was unable to defeat the Spartans’ 195.425.
The Wolverines, the Golden Gophers and the Buckeyes have all averaged above the 195 mark, but the Fighting Illini haven't been as consistent. Competing against the Big Ten, they have scored as low as a 193.500 to a season high of 195.650, which was claimed last weekend with a win against Iowa. Illinois has yet to hit the 196 mark.
“One thing that we're really looking to improve on heading into Big Five this weekend is just hitting all our routines, each girl in the lineup and hopefully just making the night session for Big Ten Championships,” said senior Michelle Amoresano. “We're improving each week and I think we're still trying to find our set lineup, but we'll get there pretty soon.”
The Knights’ lineup was shaken up after freshman Mia Betancourt sustained a concussion last week in practice and was unable to compete at Michigan State. She won’t be competing this weekend either, so it's still up for question when she can return to competition.
Since joining Rutgers, Betancourt has been a key runner in vault, beam and floor lineups. The Knights took a huge hit when they had to switch up the lineups at their last competition against the Spartans, but still managed to put together a solid performance despite Betancourt’s absence.
Rutgers is going to have to nail all of its routines against three nationally-ranked teams. This season, Michigan and Minnesota sit atop the conference neck-and-neck, without a loss to a Big Ten opponent. Ohio State is tied for third in the conference with Nebraska, and the Illini are not far behind at No. 5.
“Competing on podium is so much fun,” said senior Jenna Rizkalla. “We all love it. We competed on podium here two years ago for Big Tens and last year for Big Tens. It's a lot more competitive between the teams, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
Although the Knights face tough competition, they aren’t worried about the rankings at all, and it hasn’t let them perform any less. Last time Rutgers faced a nationally-ranked team, it captured its first Big Ten win and second-highest team score in program history against then-No. 22 Penn State.
“Staying in our bubble just means focusing on ourselves and not getting distracted to what the other teams do. It's us that matters,” Amoresano said. “(Salim-Beasley) says we are capable of competing against any team in the nation, which we've proved against Penn State. Knowing that we have that confidence will help us going into Big Five.”
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