The Rutgers Gymnastics team returned to the RAC for the final home meet of the season. The program honored its four seniors gymnasts and team manager: Jenna Rizkalla, Riahanah Ali, Michelle Amoresano, Eriel Santagado, and Allison Palmer. Like several meets this season, it came down to the very last gymnast, all streamed on Facebook Live. The victory made the ceremony after the meet even more radiant.
Let Senior Knight begin‼️ pic.twitter.com/16FMriZwcc— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 9, 2019
Rutgers got to work on the vault with Toni Williams’s (9.700) and Belle Huang (9.750). The trio of seniors crushed it in succession, placing first, second, and third in the meet, sweeping the awards: Jenna Rizkalla (9.850), Michelle Amoresano (9.800), and Riahanah Ali (9.850). Kaitlyn Hall closed things out with a 9.700.
STUCK‼️ Riz with a 9.75! pic.twitter.com/kfeyJgsl1a— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 9, 2019
The seniors saved their best for last and will be missed. Coach Rosso’s group as a whole put up a 48.950, their second best effort of the year easily outpacing second place Bridgeport by half a point. Sophia Atienza did an exhibition and will be counted on to return to the starting lineup next season.
Rutgers moved on to bars per usual for the home squad. Emily Drauss, who has been a pleasant surprise struggled but her teammates picked her up. Huang (9.800) was awesome and Hall (9.675) was solid. Abigail Karolewski wasn’t her best but put up what turned out to be an absolutely critical 9.525. Amoresano got the momentum back for the home squad with a 9.800 and Shannon Farrell punctuated the rotation with an amazing 9.925.
Farrell took home first place while Amoresano and Huang tied for 4th. As a team, Rutgers fell by just 0.025 points to Bridgeport, finishing 2nd. Coach Salim-Beasley’s group had their 3rd best tally of the 2019 campaign despite two gymnasts below their averages. Toni Williams, Sage Littlejohn, and Santagado in her final meet all did exhibitions. No one wants to end the season yet, but it will be exciting to see what coach can do in a full offseason to further improve the routines and scores.
The Scarlet Knights needed to keep the momentum going as it was still wide open halfway through the meet. Hall finished her day with a 9.625 then Mia Betancourt had a 9.650. Rizkalla could not match her career high from last week and her score was dropped. Kiera Doherty-Herwitz added a 9.550 to get the team back on track. Amoresano and Huang were not their best, each registering a 9.650.
Beam was the team’s lowest score by far and is surely the team’s weakness in 2019. So it was shocking to see the team was still above their season average and finished second in the event to surprising Centenary. The adrenaline in the crowd dissipated a bit, but after checking the scoreboard, Rutgers was still well within striking distance.
Last but certainly not least‼️ pic.twitter.com/OZAdbVsjRj— Rutgers Gymnastics (@RUGymnastics) March 9, 2019
The Scarlet Knights entered the floor exercise trailing Bridgeport by less than half a point. Things started out ok when Shannon Farrell in just her second floor routine of the year achieved a 9.400. Mia Betancourt in her first floor exercise in a month fell on her final landing after what up to that point was a mostly solid routine. Things looked bleak, but Amoresano acted as if there was no pressure at all and added a 9.600.
As the scores started to come in from the other teams on their final apparatus, three strong scores appeared like it would be enough for RU to claim victory on their home floor. Rizkalla could not match her career high a week ago, but was very close, notching her second 9.850 of the day. Ali exploded for a 9.900 to the delight of the crowd, making her moves look almost effortless. With it all on the line, you would have never known by Huang’s composure as she put the nail in the coffin with a 9.875.
Extra credit to this group with so much emotion happening. In their final home routines, Rizkalla and Ali were at their absolute best and Amoresano was plenty good enough. RU was only third as a team, but it was more than they needed to achieve victory on senior day.
Rutgers really needed senior captain Riahanah Ali’s leadership and energy. Back in action after a precautionary week off, it was a wonderful moment as the entire team came out to greet her after her final floor routine in front of the home crowd. That routine was good enough for a 9.900 just below her career high, yet good enough for first place in the meet.
Huang was the best all-arounder on the day with a 39.075, besting Amoresano (38.850 - 3rd). It was a great way to cap the home schedule that saw an upset win over Penn State, possibly the first ever by RU and a near upset of #5 Nebraska. Rutgers has to be happy with the season they have had, but it’s not over yet.
In a quick turnaround, Rutgers travels to Kent State for a quad meet including Ball State and North Carolina this Sunday at 1 pm.
The Big Ten championships take place Saturday, March 23 at Penn State.