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Rutgers Gymnastics competes Friday at Penn State

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Scarlet Knights split two dual meets last weekend.

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Penn State has a student section, even for gymnastics.

The fifth 2020 Rutgers gymnastics meet takes place today, Friday, January 31 at 7:00 pm in Happy Valley against the Penn State Nittany Lions who have not yet rounded into their usual top form. Last weekend was a mix of ups and downs for the RU program, so they need to bring the good for a chance at knocking off PSU for the second straight year, second time ever in fact.

Last week

Friday at #8 Michigan, Rutgers had an overall performance to forget, scoring a 192.950. It wasn’t just strict judging as the home Wolverines put on a clinic with a 197.300. That doesn’t mean the meet was without positives for the program. Hannah Joyner still had a solid night scoring a 9.750 or better on all four apparatus, good enough for third in the all-around.

Rutgers came out hot with their best scores of the year on uneven bars (48.775) and in the vault (48.775). Senior captain Shannon Farrell matched her total from the week prior with a 9.825 on bars matched by a career high from sophomore Abigail Karolewski. Two career highs were set on vault, Freshman Jordyn Duffield scored a 9.725 while fellow senior captain Kaitlyn Hall recorded a 9.800. Things started to fall apart with mistakes on floor exercise as RU tried to keep pace with Michigan and was unable to recover on beam despite RU’s normally stacked lineup in the event. Belle Huang still recorded a typical for her 9.850 on the floor.

Sunday in Philadelphia, Rutgers did what they needed to do. Like a good placekicker in football, gymnasts need to have short memories and that’s exactly what happened as they did enough to net a 193.575 and defeat the host Pennsylvania Quakers (190.875). The biggest highlight was Erin McLachlan setting a record on balance beam (9.950) that bested the previous program high set by Hannah Joyner, a week ago. You have that right. Check it out in the tweet below:

On bars (48.110), Rutgers was led by Farrell (9.750) and Karolewski (9.725) who each placed in the top three for the day. On the vault (48.700), Duffield upped her season best for the second time in three days, this time to a 9.775 earning second place. All five scorers tallied 9.700 or better, led by Joyner’s 9.800.

Rutgers was just about to put things on cruise control when Mia Betancourt injured herself leading off the floor exercise rotation. She was unable to complete her routine and much more impactful than the zero on the scoreboard was how it shook the team as a whole. To their credit, the remaining five gymnasts composed themselves to maintain the lead through three rotations. The 47.925 team score on floor was paced by Huang’s 9.825.

On beam to close things out and cement the victory, Joyner earned yet another 9.900 in addition to McLachlan’s record. Emily Drauss made an appearance on beam and had a nice 9.775 for her efforts. Freshman Jenna Ferguson achieved a career high 9.775 in the event also. The 49.125 was almost a record in itself, the second best team score in school history.

What to expect @ Penn State

Rutgers is 4-4 if every opponent was considered in a head-to-head fashion, though they dropped from 36th to 42nd in the country overall. This is notable because the top 36 teams qualify for the NCAA regionals. The qualifying system is a little bit complicated so we will dive into that later in the year.

As Coach Salim-Beasley’s competitive philosophy continues, lineups are still set on a weekly basis per performance in practice leading up to a meet. I have not seen an injury report prior to this posting and every gymnast is probably banged up by this point, so keep an eye out for who is announced in the lineups tonight. The depth could be tested, but Coach Salim-Beasley indicated “... 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.” On the freshman specifically, she likes how much energy they bring to the team to push the upperclassmen. Hopefully that mix of youthful energy and more practice reps than years’ past will come in handy over the next few weeks.

The freshmen, and team overall for that matter, face another big crowd by regular season gymnastics standards. Like Michigan, Penn State has a strong following, including students. Again in a dual meet there’s less chaos in the arena so more eyes are on every routine. Penn State will look to avenge last season’s loss at the RAC, and BTN Plus has the telecast from Rec Hall.

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 Friday in a row against a Big Ten juggernaut. Once again I’m not predicting a victory, but that’s not to say Rutgers can’t pull the upset during this early season.

Opponents

Penn State is a traditional powerhouse who had defeated Rutgers every time they had ever matched up until ... last year. This season the Nittany Lions are just outside the top 25, currently 30th, in the national rankings. Penn State has officially won just two of six head to head battles on the year, but all six are currently in the top 38 in the country. The Nittany Lions have a 194.881 average and a high of 196.275, not too shabby.

Penn State has just two New Jerseyans on their squad, both from Morganville: sophomore Melissa Astarita and senior Kristen Politz. Politz will be a challenger on floor with a season high of 9.850. The Nittany Lions have two very strong all-arounders, Lauren Bridgens (First Team All-Big Ten the last two seasons) and Cassidy Rushlow, a freshman who has exploded onto the scene in 2020. It should be a good measuring stick for Huang and Joyner on all four apparatus.

It should be a good meet. Good luck RU!

Next up

The squad hosts Michigan State, Saturday February 8, 1:30 pm at the RAC. Free admission and parking. It Scout Day and Special Olympic New Jersey Day.