PISCATAWAY, N.J. (April 2, 2014) – Working on an already record-breaking season, Rutgers gymnastics is set to add more history at the NCAA Regionals Saturday, April 5 at 4 p.m. on the campus of the University of Georgia. The meet will feature host No. 6 Georgia, No. 7 Michigan, No. 18 Central Michigan, No. 22 Ohio State and No. 28 North Carolina State.
RUTGERS MEET PREVIEW
The Scarlet Knights (195.340 RQS) have qualified for NCAA Regionals for the first time since the 2007 squad earned a berth. It will be the first trip under the leadership of head coach Louis Levine, the EAGL Coach of the Year, and under the current format.
Rutgers recorded six of its top 10 scores in school history this season, five of which were earned on the road. The team set a program-high score of 196.225 on March 8 at home. Most recently, RU earned a program-best finish and score at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championships, tying NC State for third at 195.275.
At Regionals, Rutgers will follow the rotation of beam, bye, floor, vault, bye, bars. The Scarlet Knights have remained consistent on beam, posting at least a 49.000 in the event in four of the last five meets. RU also recorded the top scores in program history on vault (49.200) and on floor (49.325) this season.
Five Scarlet Knights have NCAA experience, having qualified as individuals over the past seasons. Senior Alexis Gunzelman (Tabernacle, N.J.) and redshirt senior Luisa Leal (Cali, Colombia) each hold two appearances competing all-around. Last season, Leal posted a score 39.175 to finish just 0.25 points behind the second qualifier for Nationals. Sophomores Jenna Williams (Bordentown, N.J.) and Claudia Salinas (Allendale, N.J.) competed as rookies in the events of bars and beam, respectively. Senior Jenna Zito (Rockaway, N.J.) made an appearance all-around at 2011 Regionals.
RU has already defeated Ohio State and Central Michigan this season, while tying NC State at the EAGL Championships. The top two teams from the region will advance to the NCAA Nationals in Birmingham, Ala.
UGA averages an attendance of approximately 9,500 at the Stegeman Coliseum. The arena can hold over 10,000 and is expected to reach that capacity this weekend. It will be RU’s first trip to an SEC school since the team traveled to Alabama in 2001.
HEAD COACH LOUIS LEVINE Q&A
On qualifying for Regionals: “It feels good. It was one of the goals we set out to reach at the beginning of the year. I thought we were pretty consistent from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. Qualifying for Regionals shows that consistency. The season is not over yet, though, as we one more important meet. We are going to go in there and put up our best effort and see what happens.”
On starting Regionals on beam: “Starting on beam can set a really good tone for the rest of the meet. It gives us a chance to be a quarter of the way and at a position right there with the other teams pushing for Nationals. If we can start out with what we put up last time at the EAGL Championships, then that will help put us right where we want to be. Then moving to the next event, we can hopefully carry that throughout the whole meet.”
On competing at the University of Georgia: “It will be a little different. They average about 9,500 fans a meet. It will be an experience and I think our team will handle it in stride. Whether there is one fan or 30,000 fans, you still have to get up there and do your job. The only one that affects that is you. We will get out of the cold weather, but other than it’s the same four-inch beam, the same vault, the same uneven bars and the same floor. You just have to get up and do what you have been training for all season.”
On having competed head-to-head with three of the opponents: “We haven’t talked about it very much. On the days we competed against them, we put up higher scores than them and we hope that this will be another day like that. We are going to go in there with the goal to win and whatever happens, happens.”
On the level of competition in the EAGL: “This being our last year in the EAGL is bittersweet. Our former head coach Crystal [Chollet-Norton] was one of the people who started the conference and without them we probably wouldn’t have a gymnastics program. It is bittersweet to be leaving, but it is exciting to be joining the Big Ten. We will be facing an EAGL opponent this weekend so there are teams on that Regional level. It has raised the bar here at Rutgers and it helped us reach these new levels that we are reaching this year.”
On making Regionals the last season in the EAGL: “Our performance day-in and day-out makes a statement. Making Regionals is a great thing and it was one of our goals. It is a big part of it. Being able to get up there and throw the same skills as those Big Ten schools is what will give us the respect. We will have to go in there and take the respect that we want. That is something that we will push for when the season is over and we start getting ready for next year. Right now, we are really just focused on our meet this weekend and putting up our best performance that we can.”