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Rutgers Gymnastics defeats #25 Penn State

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Knights lead wire to wire, finish with 2nd highest score in program history.

FloSports: FloGymnastics Big Ten Championships
Rutgers claimed their first Big Ten win of the year.
Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers Gymnastics team had their sixth meet of the season, the second week in a row at home Saturday. The #25 Penn State Nittany Lions arrived on the banks averaging a 195.300 per meet this season, so Rutgers was definitely an underdog on their home turf. Rutgers came out firing and needed to keep the pedal to the medal to secure victory. Here’s how it went down:

Vault

Rutgers started the evening in the vault with the same lineup that has competed all season. RU was very solid across the board as a 9.725 from Michelle Amoresano didn’t even count in the team score. Riahanah Ali (career high 9.850) took home the gold and Toni Williams (career high tying 9.800) the bronze. Mia Betancourt also tied her career high with a 9.750. As has been the case almost every week this season, you can re-watch all the vaults on the Rutgers gymnastics twitter feed.

Coach Rosso had to be ecstatic with the way his group fed off the energy of the home crowd. To beat a ranked team there has to be no fear, easier said than done on vault. It was by far the Scarlet Knights’ best score of the season (48.925) and the Penn State faithful in attendance had to be surprised to see their team down after the first rotation despite a 48.875 of their own on bars.

Uneven Bars

The Scarlet Knights needed to keep the momentum going on the uneven bars which has been their worst event collectively in 2019. Emily (Milly) Drauss earned a spot in the bars lineup for the first time this year and led things off with a solid 9.700. Ali (“Ray” on twitter) did the same followed by Belle Huang (9.725). Amoresano electrified the crowd with a career-high 9.825, matched right afterward by Kaitlyn Hall. With Penn State trying to close ground heading to the turn, Shannon Farrell instead delivered an incredible 9.900 career-best to easily win the event individually and for Rutgers as a team.

Rutgers completely destroyed the season high they set against Nebraska. Coach Salim-Beasley was happy, but even she had to be a little surprised that her team had won each of the first two events against a perennial power in Penn State. The improvement in this event has been tremendous to watch this year, how much better can they get under Salim-Beasley’s tutelage?

Balance Beam

Rutgers dominated on the balance beam last week and needed another awesome effort to maintain the lead. Hall led things off with a season best 9.700 and the Scarlet Knights were rolling again. Betancourt tied her career-best 9.750 set last week then Amoresano tied her season-high with a 9.800. After Penn State lost the momentum they were generating with an out of bounds violation on the floor exercise, Rutgers capitalized as Kiera Doherty-Herwitz woo’d the BTN crew with a 9.825 tying her career best. Not to be outdone, Huang pulled off an anchoring performance that may not be forgotten anytime soon, setting a new career-high with a 9.925.

Assistant coach Anastasia Halbig answered my question from last week as to whether the Knights could keep it up. They did just that and more and headed into the final rotation having increased their lead yet again. At this point I was just checking my math and that of sidearm stats with what was being shown on Big Ten network to really be sure RU was performing to this previously unexpected level.

Check out Huang’s school record tying effort to close the event for the home team:

Floor Exercise

The Scarlet Knights closed the day on the floor exercise with the lead and even the BTN commentators were curious to see how they would handle the pressure. Leading off, Toni Williams completed a round off back handspring double back with a stuck landing on her first pass and it seemed to relax the team. Her 9.825 set a new career high, good for third place on the day. Betancourt set her own career-high next with a 9.775 and all those in the crowd who were not already sold on the fact that Rutgers could actually win this one were about to come around. Amoresano delivered a 9.700 to give the team some margin for error, though her score would not even end up counting toward the team total.

As this was happening, Penn State was tearing it up on balance beam as their lowest score that counted toward the team total was an astounding 9.800. Jenna Rizkalla sporting a heavily taped ankle showed no ill effects or jitters in her first event of the day earned a 9.875, good for 2nd on the day. So it might have been enough for Rutgers to secure victory if just one of their final two gymnasts could avoid a fall.

Rather than leave it to chance, Belle Huang again delivered in a big way. She came through with her second 9.9 of the day, the 9.900 being enough for first place in the event. Ali anchored with a 9.775 and any remaining doubt that Rutgers would knock off a ranked opponent was extinguished. Coach Rosso’s lineup delivered their second best tally of the season, made more impressive by the pressure of the moment.

The Skinny

The scores for both teams were high so it was good the meet was aired on BTN to see that it wasn’t simply generous judging. Both teams really performed well. Penn State beat their average by half a point, and it was their highest road score since 2016, but Rutgers was simply too much.

Rutgers was able to establish a new baseline of what they are capable of doing. The Scarlet Knights may not finish with the won-loss record they wanted heading into the year and may end up in the early session of the Big Ten championships. That being said, Rutgers is on the rise and not a program anyone wants to face, especially on the banks.

Congrats to Coach Umme Salim-Beasley on her first career Big Ten win and the rest of their team for their record setting performance.

NEXT UP:

The women travel to Michigan State next Saturday at 2 pm.