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Rutgers Gymnastics competes Friday at #9 Michigan, Sunday at Penn

Scarlet Knights start meet in Ann Arbor at 6:30 pm.

NCAA Gymnastics: Women’s Gymnastics Championships
Michigan is another powerhouse.
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The third 2020 Rutgers gymnastics meet takes place today, Friday, January 24 at 6:30 pm in Ann Arbor against the #9 Michigan Wolverines. The team must recover quickly because they are back in action for their fourth at the University of Pennsylvania Quakers Sunday at 1 pm in Philadelphia.

Last week

Despite Freshman Hannah Joyner’s school record on balance beam, Rutgers Gymnastics (194.550) took 2nd in first home quad meet, unable to shock then #6, now #7 Minnesota (196.875). The Scarlet Knights did upend Bowling Green (191.025) and Ursinus (184.800).

Rutgers got any jitters out on the vault to open things up. Junior Toni Williams led the way with a 9.800, but the team was up and down despite an identical lineup to the season opener in Arizona. Rutgers took second in the event, half a point behind Minnesota which is still a positive. Also in gymnastics, note that scores in the first rotation may often be lower since judges often leave room for opportunity from the other teams no matter how by the book they try to be with their marks.

Rutgers did even better on bars than vault, tallying a 48.575, only 0.300 behind Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Knights were slightly below their season opening scores or the contest might have been closer. Senior captain Shannon Farrell really showed up, registering a 9.825, good for third individually.

Assistant coach Anastasia Halbig had to be proud on the beam as freshman Hannah Joyner exploded for a school record in the event at 9.925. Senior Erin McLachlan was also near top form, tallying a 9.800, which was nice to see after she missed all of last season. Everyone who competed scored a 9.750 or higher for a team total of 48.950, nice! Check out Joyner’s routine in the tweet below.

The Scarlet Knights wrapped up on floor as is customary for the home squad needing a near perfect effort to pull the upset. The 48.500 was unfortunately their lowest scoring event, so they did fall short.

Heading into the season, Coach Umme Salim-Beasley and the rest of the coaching staff probably expected an effort like this their second time out. Expectations may have been higher after such a strong performance in the season opener though, but falling to Minnesota is not shameful in any way. Individually, Belle Huang took third in the all-around. Jordyn Duffield struggled in vault and on floor, but shined in her debut on beam (9.725). Her efforts were equalled or better by everyone else though so this team looks to have the makings of a real solid balance beam lineup top to bottom.

The team also improved in vault compared to Week 1 despite starting off in the event this time. It seems that the team is rising to the increased level of difficulty in their routines. The team score on Uneven Bars was down, barely, but Salim-Beasley should get some good data and film with the quick turnaround this weekend to work with. Bars is definitely the biggest wildcard for this team in 2020.

Rutgers still has some things to clean up on the floor exercise, the second straight week for at least one deduction. This really should not come as a surprise though since three seniors graduated in 2019 who were stars in the event on the heels of two in 2018. The talent is there, but particularly on floor it takes time to harness it on meet day.

What to expect

As Coach Salim-Beasley reaffirmed for me last week, lineups are still set on a weekly basis per performance in practice leading up to a meet. One name who came up when discussing consistency though was senior captain Kaitlyn Hall. Salim-Beasley mentioned “Kaitlyn Hall was our most consistent gymnast last year. She didn’t miss a single routine and she did three events. She is just an ironwoman really. She did have some knee injuries earlier in her career, but she’s been able to manage them.” “You want find a person more determined that will push through whatever it is that she’s feeling.”

Another thing we discussed that hasn’t been highlighted enough is regarding the new practice facility. Of any Rutgers program, gymnastics got the biggest boost with the recent fundraising efforts on the banks. Salim-Beasley said, “The biggest way it has helped out is that we have so many different surfaces to be able to train on. For example our previous facility never had a heard surface landing for a vault. So our team had a disadvantage not being able to feel the hard surface landing until we got to competition. So we had to make the adjustment that way, we weren’t really able to prepare them ahead of time. And then resi-surface landings which are a soft, cushioning landing that we have on every event. So for our gymnasts with some nagging ankle issues, or nagging knee issues we are able to train them on those soft surfaces throughout the week to be able to keep them doing routines and hope they are able to practice without additional pounding. So I think the different surfaces was the biggest thing that helped in this space. And just having more equipment, we can just take more turns and use our time more wisely because we have the additional space available to do that. And it also allows us to take higher numbers on our team.”

Of course improved facilities also help with bringing in more top talent Salim-Beasley added. “It helped out tremendously with recruiting. That piece is a given. For us to compete with other schools to get those top recruits, they want to know they are going to get a gym they will feel comfortable training safely in. That is obvious that when we have recruits come in they can say ‘This gym is just as nice as Michigan’s gym,’ or “this gym is just as nice as LSU’s gym.’ It also shows that our athletic department is investing in our program.”

This will be as pressure packed a road environment as you’ll get. Michigan has a strong following and in a dual meet there’s less chaos in the arena so more eyes are on every routine. BTN plus has the telecast from the Crisler Center, so buckle your seat belt. Rutgers made some noise at home in the past two seasons against big time schools, but needs to take another step if they want to do the same outside the confines of the RAC.

I want to again thank Coach for her time and look forward to more positive discussion throughout the season. This week will be the second in a row against a Top 10 ranked opponent who also hails from the Big Ten. To be the best, you have to beat the best. I’m not predicting a victory, especially on the road, but look forward to several gymnasts continuing to build on early season success.

Opponents

Friday: Michigan (3-0-0) is now ranked 9th in the country (196.175 average) after winning one tri and one dual meet (at #13 Illinois last week). This is no mirage though since they finished 5th in the National Championships last year. The Wolverines truly are a national powerhouse yet somehow have no one from New Jersey on their roster, unlike seemingly ever other sport. The only gymnast from anywhere close is National Champion Natalie Wojcik (Douglassville, PA) who took home the NCAA Title on Balance Beam as a freshman last year. She won the Big Ten title on beam and also in the all-around, but only earned the silver at nationals in the AA, what a disappointment! She had a 39.375 in the all-around in last week’s win at Illinois.

Sunday: The University of Pennsylvania took third place in a quad down at George Washington last weekend. The Quakers (192.850) were humbled by the hosts and Kent State, but defeated Ivy League rival Cornell. The Quakers feature four New Jersey natives, Senior Tara Mills (Red Bank), Freshman Ali Karpousis (Voorhees), Sophomore Ava Caravela (West Caldwell), and Freshman Ariyana Agarwala (Edison).

Good luck RU!

Next up

The squad travels to my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Sunday January 26 for a dual at the historic Palestra at 1 pm. If you’ve never been there, I’d recommend checking it out.

Rutgers is back in the state of Pennsylvania once again next Friday in Happy Valley. The January 31 meet against Penn State is at 7 pm.