Rutgers looks to capitalize on career bests against Michigan State

After one of the most successful nights in program history, the Rutgers gymnastics team is ready to take on its next Big Ten foe in East Lansing, Michigan. The Scarlet Knights will compete against Michigan State on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Rutgers is definitely not hiding the fact that it is going into Michigan with a lot of confidence, producing the program’s second-highest team score of 196.050 at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) last weekend. Competing against No. 25 Penn State, the Knights won every single event, recording season highs in three of those events with 15 routines that matched or set new career bests.

Leading Rutgers was sophomore Belle Huang, who tied the school record of 9.925 on the balance beam to claim the event title, going along with her 9.900 win on floor.

Senior Riahanah Ali captured the vault title with a career high 9.850, adding to her first all-around score of 39.000 in a collegiate meet.

Claiming her second consecutive uneven bars title, junior Shannon Farrell stuck her dismount and got to wear the Stick Queen jersey with a personal best of 9.900.

“We have all the pieces in place right now,” said head coach Umme Salim-Beasley. “Other than the landings and the handstands and the connections, now we're at a point that we can add a little polish and little bit of showmanship to what we do."

Throughout the season, the Knights usually spend the week leading up to competition working on a specific aspect of their routines. When they struggled with their connections, they practiced until they could get it right. 

When the team's landings were shaky, it practiced on sticking those, too. This time around, it’s all about maintaining their routines to the same standard as in competition.

"This week, definitely doing the same things,” Ali said. “Lots of landings. We did good ones, but there's still more that we could do. Bigger chests and just being consistent now. We know that we can do it, just keep doing it for every meet for the rest of the season."

The Spartans are a step down from the Nittany Lions, but will still give Rutgers a run for its money. Sitting at the bottom of the conference, Michigan State has yet to win against a Big Ten team and the Knights may be its only chance to turn that dream into a reality. 

Three of the Spartans’ four Big Ten competitions have been against nationally ranked teams with their season-best team performance of 195.225, coming out of their loss to then No. 14 Ohio State.

Comparing the past two competitions from Rutgers and Michigan State, the Knights have produced team scores higher than their Big Ten counterpart. But, the Spartans are more consistent in producing above the 194 mark, which is something Rutgers is continuing to work toward.

If the Knights are able to continue their momentum from their success against Penn State, Rutgers will begin to assert itself as the greater Big Ten contender. 

This season, the Knights are not focusing on the external factors or rankings of other teams, which has helped the team zone in on its routines and avoid worrying about anything other than themselves.

“We bring our energy with us," Salim-Beasley said. "If it's the home crowd or an away crowd, we bring the energy within ourselves. We're not going to prepare any differently this weekend because it doesn't matter who we're competing against, we're competing against everybody in the country and we're competing against ourselves."

The last time Rutgers traveled, its team score dropped by nearly 3 points and it wasn't thrilled about the judges’ scores. Even though they’re traveling to Michigan with no home crowd to support them, the Knights are ready to raise the bar with a lot of cheering along the way.

“Well, we're just going to have to bring the energy ourselves,” Huang said. “That's just what happens at away meets. It's obviously not as loud, but it's still just as much fun.”

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

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