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Rutgers earns 2nd best score in program history

Competing against Penn State in front of a packed Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC) of 2,043, the Rutgers gymnastics team left everything out on its routines Saturday night to beat the No. 25 Nittany Lions and post the second-highest overall team score in the program's history.

This season, the Scarlet Knights' highest score before this weekend was a 194.600 against Maryland, last Saturday. This time, though, Rutgers didn’t just crack the 195 mark, but the 196 mark as well to record a team score of 196.050, outperforming Penn State’s 195.825. 

The Knights' highest team score was set on March 8, 2014, with a 196.225 in the Livingston Recreation Center. 

Asked about Rutgers’ breakthrough performance, first-season head coach Umme Salim-Beasley isn’t at all surprised about the results.

“The team has been doing it every day in practice," Salim-Beasley said. "What you saw today is no different than what they've been doing all week, and we have been reminding them, 'you are good, you're capable of competing against any team in the country.'"

At their home opener on Jan. 19 against Nebraska, the Knights only scored more than 49 once in an event this season in the floor exercise. 

Saturday marked the first time they logged two scores above that mark on the beam (49.000) and floor (49.150).

“They were not intimidated at all,” Salim-Beasley said. “They were determined. They wanted to have a great showing in front of our crowd and alumni.”

Rutgers topped three events, beginning with senior Riahanah Ali’s career-high 9.850 on the vault. The Ann Arbor, Michigan native boasted an all-around score of 39.000 to compete for the first time in all four events.

Ali, a team captain, is averaging at least a 9.350 or above in the vault, bars and floor events this season.

"We just did really well staying in the moment,” Ali said. “(Salim-Beasley) always says, 'Take your skills as it comes.' I think we did a really good job at taking one skill at a time and being confident and aggressive all the way through."

Sophomore Toni Williams started off the vault lineup and Saturday’s meet with a 9.800, matching her personal best for third in the event. Junior Kaitlyn Hall tied for fourth with a 9.775.

Hall contributed another career-high for the Knights with a 9.825 score in the bars event, tying with senior Michelle Amoresano, who matched her career-best in the event.

Sticking her landing and the uneven parallel bars title was junior Shannon Farrell with a personal best of 9.900, ahead of the Lions' Lauren Bridgens and Sabrina Garcia, who tied for second. 

The strongest event performance for Penn State was on the beam, as the Lions took control of four spots in the top five. Squeezing in between them all was sophomore Belle Huang, who tied the school record of 9.925 with a stick to share the beam title alongside two Penn State gymnasts.

“I think we just went out, did what we had to do and showed off what we have been doing in practice,” Huang said. “Practice makes perfect and it paid off.”

The entire Rutgers beam lineup either tied or set new career highs in the event for a 49.000, good for fourth in program history.

Huang tumbled her way to the top of the leaderboard with a routine of 9.900, while senior Jenna Rizkalla earned a 9.875 for second place. Sharing third with a pair of Lions was Williams with a 9.825 score.

After a successful weekend, the Knights tune up for their next away competition against Michigan State. Rutgers may have had breakthrough performances, but there is still much work to be done.

“We could've done a little better,” Salim-Beasley said on the Knights' landings. “We left a lot of tenths out there. I don't think we're done with sticks until an entire lineup sticks the landing, so we've got a lot of room to go. I think we probably could've gotten maybe a point more if we had stuck landings in every single event, so that's always a work in progress.”

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

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