As other Rutgers athletic programs are just embarking on their 2018 Big Ten journeys, gymnastics traveled to Champaign, Ill. for the Big Ten Championships Saturday to conclude theirs. As a result of last weekend’s results at the RAC, Rutgers competed in the early session at State Farm Center along with Nebraska, Michigan State, and Penn State. Seeing those powerhouse programs in the early action is a testament to how competitive the conference was this year. The nightcap will feature the remaining squads: host Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, and Ohio State.
There always plenty of opportunity at the individual level as last year’s Big Ten Championships held at the RAC saw Mackenzey Shank and Claire Jones earn All-Championships recognition. Riahanah Ali earned the same honor in 2016.
Big Ten Results
The team began the day on the balance beam where they ranked highest nationally (currently #43). Shank tied the school record in the event earlier this season and did not disappoint, scoring a 9.800, tied for 6th. Three other gymnasts broke 9.725 to tie for 10th or better (Belle Huang, Libby Groden, and Erin McLachlan.)
From a pure numbers perspective, Rutgers has their highest average team score in floor exercise where they rotated to second. Team leader Jenna Rizkalla who has been on fire with no less than a 9.800 in her last six competitions. She was joined by Ali and Shank as all three turned in 9.800s on the day. The team lead in the event was Huang who finished in 10th place with a 9.825.
Half way there and we’re not giving up! On to vault pic.twitter.com/tvy5NaPK25— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 24, 2018
The team’s best bet in vault this season was Toni Williams, a freshman who has really focused in the event this year but she did not compete. Instead, the team was paced by Huang’s 9.775 followed by 9.700s from the A-team (Ali, Michelle Amoresano, and Sophia Atienza).
Rutgers finished on uneven bars where Shannon Farrell has improved nicely in her sophomore campaign to pace the club and had an outside chance of a medal. Unfortunately, Shannon had her worst day of the season at the worst possible time not finishing in the top five on the team. Michelle Amoresano did a nice job, earning a 9.800 landing in 10th place.
Coach Louis Levine tinkered with lineups all year, but included Libby Groden and Belle Huang in the all-around as expected. Groden competed in all four events last weekend for the first time in over a month last and attempted to break her own record, she held the Scarlet Knights’ two best ever all-around performance in the Big Ten event. Groden was in the money most of the day, but the rust of being out of action added up just a little here and there, resulting in a sixth place finish at 38.900.
Freshman Belle Huang had been strong ever since Levine let her loose on all four apparatus early in the year. She stayed competitive all afternoon, showing the improvement evident all season to tally a 39.025 (edging Groden’s school record in the events). That score put her in third place in the all-around behind Megan Schweihofer (1st) of Nebraska and Briannah Tsang of Penn State (2nd). Even someone who had no idea how the scoring system works would have been able to tell Schweihofer was the most outstanding performer, she was awesome in all four events. With that effort, perennial powerhouse Nebraska finished first as a team and the discussion on the Big Ten Network was that their score might hold up through the night for first overall. We shall see.
Rutgers finished third, in between Penn State and Michigan State. Penn State to their credit came with a ton of energy that seemed evident throughout the meet. Michigan State limped to the end of what was a memorable season in all the wrong ways for the Spartans on and off the apparatus.
Off the mat
Academic All-Big Ten selections were announced earlier this week. Nine Rutgers gymnasts earned recognition including Ali, Jenna Crisalli, Chloe DeVries, Groden, Emma Karas, McLachlan, Polina Poliakova, Eriel Santagado, and Shank.
Await conclusion of the second session.
Then the team awaits information on individual qualifying for the NCAA regionals.
Thanks to all those who showed up last weekend as the Rutgers gymnastics community clearly is worth the addition to the Big Ten conference.