Rutgers prepares for competition with reigning Big Ten Champion Michigan

Two weeks into the season, the Rutgers gymnastics team is already breaking records. The Scarlet Knights started off the year with their highest season-opening score since 2014 and only look like they’re going up from there.

After coming off of its home opener at the Rutgers Athletic Center, Rutgers will be back on the mat in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for a dual meet against Michigan set for 6:30 p.m. on Friday. 

This will be the Knights’ first time competing against Michigan in a dual meet since joining the Big Ten, and it won’t be an easy one. The No. 9 Wolverines have averaged 196.175 in their first three competitions to start the year and have won every single one. Last week, they defeated No. 13 Illinois at home. Not to mention, Michigan has won six consecutive Big Ten Championships, earning its sixth ring last season.

To take down the reigning conference champions would be a far stretch, but Rutgers isn’t at all worried about its competitors. In the gymnastics world, it’s easy to compare scores and teams side by side. The only thing the Knights are focusing on is how they can be better as the season moves forward.

Rutgers has been hiding at the bottom of the Big Ten since joining the conference, but ever since head coach Umme Salim-Beasley came around, the Knights are ignited with a new fire that shouldn’t be ignored by the rest of the teams in it.

For Salim-Beasley’s first season on the Banks in 2019, a lot of time was spent building a new team culture and identity. It paid off as Rutgers was ranked as one of the most improved teams in the NCAA that year. With the foundation already set, the Knights are ready to build and keep that culture to the highest standard.

Rutgers isn’t trying to burst any of its competitors’ bubbles, but is instead staying within its own bubble. The lights and sounds that come with a gymnastics meet, as well as the added pressure of competing against some tough teams, can be distracting. Rather than putting their energy into what’s around them, the Knights are only looking at their own performance and they’ve definitely set the bar high.

Last time out, true freshman Hannah Joyner stunned the home crowd on beam to tie the school record of 9.925. For Joyner to match a program record in just the second competition of the season bodes well for the elite gymnast that knows how to perform under pressure. Not only did Joyner have a solid routine, but also the entire beam lineup was a step above all the other events. 

Beam has come a long way for Rutgers as the event was its weakest last season. Unfortunately, that came at the loss of the Knights’ floor lineup, which used to be their strongest and most consistent event. 

Every point and deduction matters. The performance of one person in the lineup, good or bad, can directly affect how the rest of the team performs. Rutgers may compete individually, but in order to reach the scores that are worthy of a Big Ten final, the Knights need to focus on the little things and perform better under high-pressure scenarios. Stick landings and smooth transitions can mean the difference between winning and losing a competition.

With the success of last season, Rutgers is more aggressive and confident in its skills. Even though the Knights are an entirely new team with almost half of the team consisting of true freshmen, Rutgers is looking better at the start of the season than last year.

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

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