The Rutgers Gymnastics team returned to action after upending #25 Ohio State last week in the Big Five Meet. This weekend’s contest featured new #25 North Carolina State and Brown alongside host New Hampshire. It was below freezing outside and the judges took more time to warm up than the athletes.
The Scarlet Knights began the event on balance beam. Kaitlyn Hall led it off with a 9.725, her best effort of the season. Jenna Rizkalla did even better with a 9.750, 8th place overall, a career-high, and sign of things to come. Mia Betancourt returned to action (on beam only) with a 9.550. Kiera Doherty-Herwitz had a nice bounce back from two subpar outings, tallying a 9.600. Michelle Amoresano battled to a 9.525 and Belle Huang a 9.600, far from her best.
Sage Littlejohn did an exhibition, and Rutgers could have used her 9.625 on the scoreboard. RU did finish a tick above their season average with a 48.225, but it did seem as though the judges were being particularly harsh in the first event for each team. This in theory should have boded well for Rutgers, as beam has been their lowest team score on average this season.
The Scarlet Knights pivoted to floor exercise, their most consistent team event (by a nose over vault) in 2019. Toni Williams was the catalyst with a 9.750 up first. Sophia Atienza hadn’t done a floor routine in competition since January 12 and it showed. Shannon Farrell saw her first action of the season outside of her normal uneven bars, putting up a 9.675 despite the added pressure. The rest of the lineup followed suit with awesome performances: Amoresano (9.825), Rizkalla (9.900), and Huang (9.850). Rizkalla was unconscious with her new career-high that also took home a tie for first place in the event. Take a peek at part of the routine in the clip below:
THIS IS JERSEY Riz grabs a 9.9‼️ pic.twitter.com/Xi1VobVEMT— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 3, 2019
Being able to weather the storm of Ali’s precautionary removal from the lineup, coach Rosso’s group put up a 49.000, the team’s best showing of the day. The team score matched the total from last week as RU has established a new standard for themselves in the event week over week. Sage Littlejohn did an exhibition on floor as well with a 9.65, showing good poise in the process. Ali averages a 9.766 on floor (3rd on the team), so if she can return the group may have an outside shot at making some noise as a team in the Big Ten Championships later this month.
R U Ready Rutgers fans⁉️ pic.twitter.com/j4bhswRjvU— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 3, 2019
Heading into the 3rd rotation, Rutgers was very much in the hunt. The team has been machine-like in their vault scores, never tallying below a 48.400 or above a 48.925. Atienza, a fixture in the lineup in 2018, was short on her landing, putting heavy pressure on the other five gymnasts to stick their landings. Williams put up a 9.700 to right the ship and then Rizkalla stayed in the zone. Jenna achieved a 9.900 for the second consecutive event, a career-high, and again tied for first place overall. Check it out in the tweet below:
Jersey is STILL here‼️A STUCK landing gets Riz a CAREER HIGH 9.9! pic.twitter.com/CeHAiU5UmZ— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 3, 2019
Huang (9.700), Amoresano (9.725), and Hall (9.775) were all solid in their efforts to keep RU alive. Coach Rosso’s other group as a whole put up a 48.800, their second best effort of the year. Rutgers was just one-tenth behind North Carolina State in the team event.
Swinging to the finish‼️ pic.twitter.com/A7XOfOYckS— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 3, 2019
Rutgers needed a big performance in their final event to take home the real hardware. This was a tall order as coach Salim-Beasley’s group has at times been the team’s week link. Emily Drauss (9.675) and Abigail Karolewski (9.700 tying her career-high) were effective despite it being their first event of the evening. Huang (9.700) was closer to boom than bust, but Kaitlyn Hall perhaps knowing that Rutgers really needed to blow it out for victory had a slight mishap. Amoresano did her part with a 9.800 and Farrell a 9.725, a good score for anyone else, but the worst for her in over a month.
Rutgers has come a long way from their 45.850 in the first meet of the season on the bars. In fact this is now the 5th meet in a row they have been over 48.500 as a team. With a few more solid efforts, their team season average could be a full point better than it was in 2018 (47.375), the biggest reason for improvement in 2019.
Rutgers missed Riahanah Ali’s leadership and energy. Mia Betancourt returned (concussion protocol) for one event, so the Scarlet Knights counted on 11 different gymnasts to compete. It takes a lot for that many people to bring their A game and in the end, the only person who did was Jenna Rizkalla. Rizkalla was the story in this one, winning two individual events with career highs in both plus the career high on beam.
New Hampshire definitely benefitted from their home crowd who was happy just to be indoors at the start. The Wildcats also likely benefitted from the judges, as I bet very few gymnastics officials can make it up there in wintery conditions outside of those VERY familiar with their routines. RU will not have it any easier at the Big Ten tournament.
Amoresano (38.875 - 2nd) and Huang (38.850 - 3rd) each finished in the money in the all-around. Rutgers continues to improve week over week as they jumped from #51 to #46 prior to this week in the Road to Nationals criteria. Three more meets until the Big Ten Championships, next week is Senior Night.
Gymnastics for beginners
A gymnast can lose up to 0.30 points on the balance beam for “insufficient artistry”. Even though the men don’t compete on beam, this explains why even a gymnastics coach like my mother (RU ‘82) had little hope for me in the sport.
Rutgers returns home next Friday, March 8 for a quad meet also featuring Towson, Bridgeport, and Centenary. The meet begins at 7 pm at the RAC. It will be the final home meet of the year, so Rutgers will honor its seniors.
The Big Ten championships take place a month from Saturday, March 23 at Penn State.
Happy birthday to Jenna Rizkalla, one day after her career-best performances in three events!