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Rutgers Gymnastics concludes season at Big Ten Championships

Knights take 7th in floor exercise, Huang qualifies for regionals.

FloSports: FloGymnastics Big Ten Championships
Michigan easily captured the team title again.
Catalina Fragoso (FLO)-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers Gymnastics team had their final meet of the season, in the early session at the Big Ten championships. The format of the event sees the top six teams during the regular season compete in the evening session, with the bottom four in the afternoon. This year’s event was held at Penn State on the Big Ten Network.

Balance Beam

Rutgers has gotten more consistent as the year went on in the balance beam after losing two of their best competitors to graduation following the 2018 campaign. Kaitlyn Hall started things out with a solid 9.700, but freshman Mia Betancourt struggled mightily in her first conference championship, I must have jinxed her. Jenna Rizkalla is usually boom or bust in the event, but unfortunately it was the latter as the senior had her lowest score since January 26. Michelle Amoresano added a 9.700 then Belle Huang a 9.650. Freshman Kiera Doherty-Herwitz performed solidly in her first conference title event with a 9.700.

Assistant coach Anastasia Halbig had her group struggle collectively at the worst possible time, registering their worst score since that January 26 meet at Iowa. The two subpar scores dropped RU to a 9th place tie with Maryland who had the same thing happen. Yes beam was the team’s weakest event, but it was still a disappointing end after so much progress was made in 2019. The team loses only two seniors from the lineup and with improvement from the youngsters could replace the production in 2020.

Floor Exercise

Being a gymnast sometimes requires having a short memory, luckily RU did heading into the floor exercise. Toni Williams led things off with a 9.55, penalized for an out of bounds. Sophia Atienza had joined the lineup after a long absence and surprised many with an impressive 9.800 for her efforts. Amoresano did even better with a 9.850 before Rizkalla split the middle with a 9.825 herself. Riahanah Ali turned in a 9.850 and Huang closed things out with a team-best 9.875, good for 14th individually.

Atizena picked a good time to put up a career-high on the biggest stage of her career. Amoresano tied her career high as well alongside solid performances from the entire group. Coach Rosso’s floor contingent was the strongest on the squad this season and showed it in front of the entire Big Ten. Unfortunately this was the last hurrah for a lineup featuring three strong seniors. Plenty of underclassmen competed on the floor this year, but the attrition will take some time to recover from.

Amoresano’s career high can be seen in the tweet below:

Vault

Rutgers made the turn to the vault hoping to make up more ground on the competition. As has been the case all season, everyone in the lineup was solid, though unfortunately unspectacular. The entire group registered between 9.700 and 9.750: Williams (9.700), Huang (9.700), Amoresano (9.750), Rizkalla (9.725), Ali (9.700), Hall (9.700).

Coach Rosso’s group didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, but no one exploded for a medal. Rizkalla, Amoresano, and Ali all at times won events this season at 9.9 range. It took a 9.950 to earn a medal, and unfortunately none of the seniors will conclude their Big Ten career with the hardware. It was a fitting end to the season in vault for the Scarlet Knights who maintained consistently and lineup balance the entire way. In yet another event, RU needs to find a way to replace three seniors in the vaulting line up in 2020.

Fans will miss Rizkalla’s front tumbling like the tweet below.

Uneven Bars

The Scarlet Knights hoped for a big finish in the event where the improved most from the start of the season. Hall started things off with a 9.675 and Huang equaled that up next. Emily Drauss turned in a 9.750, her second best tally of the season. Abigail Karolewski in her first Big Ten championship scored a team high 9.775. Amoresano struggled in her final event, and surely hopes for a shot to qualify for the regional. Shannon Farrell, the team member possibly with the best chance of an individual medal in any event anchored with a 9.750, but she will get another shot next season.

Rutgers had five good scores in the event, but it was not enough to overcome their struggles in the first rotation. The biggest positive takeaway for Coach Salim-Beasley is that the team improved all season, particularly freshman Karolewski over the last few meets. The team still has a long way to go to get up the ladder in the Big Ten on bars, but Michigan State is easily within striking distance in short order. The other reason for hope is the bars lineup loses only Amoresano to graduation.

The Skinny

The season may not have ended as RU hoped, Rutgers did finish in 10th place in the Big Ten and had a slightly lower score as a team than a year ago at the conference championships, but overall 2019 was a better campaign. The team average score for the entire season jumped from 193.042 to 193.948. Also, congrats to Coach Umme Salim-Beasley on her first career Big Ten wins over two ranked opponents and the rest of their team for some record setting performances. The team’s national overall ranking jumped from 55th in 2018 to 47th this year.

Michelle Amoresano and Belle Huang’s quests for all-around berths to the regional championships were not to be. This is unfortunate for Amoresano who won a few all-arounds this season after not competing on floor once in 2018. Michelle’s averages in the other three events all improved this year, too. Huang did qualify for the regionals on the floor exercise though. Shannon Farrell (bars), Jenna Rizkalla (vault and floor), and Riahanah Ali (floor) all had realistic chances of medaling in the Big Ten or qualifying for regionals, but came up just short.

Fans will miss Ali’s infectious joy on the twitter feed and the floor, too.

NEXT UP:

Huang travels to Athens, Georgia for the regionals. Will update if alternates from RU are announced.