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Rutgers Gymnastics opens home season Saturday at the RAC

Scarlet Knights host quad meet at 2 pm, featuring #6 Minnesota.

FloSports: FloGymnastics Big Ten Championships
#6 Minnesota returns to the RAC, much improved from their 2017 Big Ten Championships squad.
Catalina Fragoso-USA TODAY Sports

The second Rutgers gymnastics meet of the 2020 season (first at home) takes place 2:00 pm today against #6 Minnesota, Bowling Green, and Ursinus at the RAC. Free admission and parking (with registration) to all home gymnastics meets this season.

Last week

The Rutgers Gymnastics team took third place in the desert last week in Arizona’s quad meet. The home #21 Wildcats (195.950) earned first place in their second meet of the year, edging #12 Iowa State (195.750). Rutgers (194.250) was much closer to both those squads than to Western Michigan (191.800) who had entered the meet ranked 11th in the country.

Individually, freshman Hannah Joyner burst on the scene by winning the balance beam with a score of 9.900 and tying fellow Scarlet Knight Belle Huang for the all-around victory means (38.900). Fellow Freshman Jordyn Duffield also made her debut, recording a 9.750 on floor exercise. The third freshman to make her first college appearance was Jenna Ferguson on beam.

Captain Kaitlyn Hall led the way on vault (9.725). Fellow captain Shannon Farrell paced the Scarlet Knights on bars along with Huang (9.750).

Coach Umme Salim-Beasley and the rest of the coaching staff were pleasantly surprised that Rutgers did so well in their season opener, “A 194 was definitely more than we were hoping for initially.” This was even more impressive so far from home against two teams who had begun their official season the week before. She told me this week, “I think they handled themselves really well. Our main focus was staying within our bubble and not getting distracted from that, taking each routine as it came and keeping that focus from the start of the competition.”

What to expect

As Coach Salim-Beasley reaffirmed for me, lineups are still set on a weekly basis per performance in practice leading up to a meet. When we spoke, the lineup for Saturday’s home opener had not yet been finalized, though Coach did mention that Senior Captain Farrell is someone the coaching staff is really looking forward to doing more this year. “She did a few floor routines for us last year when a few of our regulars had injuries that we had to pull them out. Shannon does have the potential to do the all-around, we are hoping we’ll be able to see that happen. She wants it to happen, she’s worked really hard, so hard that she was able to earn herself a scholarship this year because of it. So she’s definitely someone we are hoping to get into four events this year.”

Salim-Beasley mentioned the big thing for her and the coaching staff this year is “having a championship mindset.” “We’ve been talking about in practice that every time you get up to do a routine, you need to be in that championship mindset. Everything moving forward is mental toughness, competition focus, and keeping our focus.” She let me know of the team goals for the year, too, “Our ultimate goal is to go out and hit all our routines. We don’t want to have to count a fall, so that is a successful gauge for us to go out and compete every weekend.” “As far as postseason, we want to see our average be in the 195 range because that is typically where you are to qualify for postseason play.”

One individual note to keep an eye on is that last year, Rutgers featured only one vault routine with a maximum of 10.0, but this year that has jumped to three. “That definitely does help us when our start value is higher, so that is our goal to compete at least half of the lineup with our 10.0 potential start values,” Salim-Beasley said.

I want to thank Coach for her time and look forward to more positives throughout the season. Hopefully the team remains as healthy as a gymnastics team can. One thing we discussed that I didn’t get into here was regarding the new practice facility. Look for more on that and the other captain, Kaitlyn Hall, in the coming weeks.

Saturday is “Princess and Superhero day”, which features a giveaway of capes and tiaras to the first 200 kids in attendance.

Opponents

Minnesota is ranked 6th in the country despite a heart-breaking loss at #3 Denver in their opener, 196.750-196.475. This is no aberration though since the Golden Gophers ended last year ranked 11th in the nation. They are led by superstar junior Lexy Ramler, 2019 NCAA co-Runner-Up in the All-Around (39.6625) and on the Uneven Bars (9.9375). Ramler had an amazing 39.575 in the all-around, with a 9.9+ in three events. Despite their national reputation, Minnesota only has one gymnast from the Eastern Time Zone, fellow junior Ona Looper, a 2020 Preseason Big Ten Gymnast to Watch from Bluffton, South Carolina. Looper scored a 9.8 or better in every event last week, too.

Despite falling to Eastern Michigan, Bowling Green put up a 193.325 in their first meet of 2020, well above their team average of 189.675 in 2019. The Falcons have three New Jerseyans on their team; Alex Johnston (Washington Township), Samantha Marion (Wyckoff), Tess Muir (Woodland Park). Marion (9.875) and Muir (9.775) both performed on balance beam.

Ursinus is a Division III program who fell in their season opener, 184.275-181.525 at SUNY Cortland last week. The Bears will surely be fired up though as this is their biggest meet of the season, the only time in 2020 they will face three Division I programs. Four New Jersey natives are featured on their roster including Taylor Cusick (Jackson), Kaylin Knapsack (Eastampton), Alex Panetta (Marlboro), and Abigail Schwerdt (Howell). A week ago, each event included at least two of the Jerseyans, maximizing with three on beam.

Good luck RU!

Next up

The women travel to #16 Michigan next Friday, January 24 at 6:30 pm for a dual meet.

For those who care about the artistry of the athletics and the uniforms, I give you the #LeoWatch. I’ll leave it at that since I am not very fashionable: