PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 2, 2012) – Rutgers University gymnastics entered a new era in 2012 with the elevation of Louis Levine to head coach, and the program continued to make strides with a number of impressive team and individual performances on the way to a memorable campaign. For the season, the Scarlet Knights had a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 192.715 with a season-high 193.850 at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) Championships on March 24.
Sophomore Alexis Gunzelman (Tabernacle, N.J.), who participated all-around in every meet with a 38.955 RQS, qualified for the NCAA Regionals in Raleigh, N.C., after staking claim as the EAGL Team MVP for being the most consistent performer throughout the year. She led the team in RQS in all four events – vault (9.770), uneven bars (9.775), balance beam (9.840) and floor exercise (9.840).
Gunzelman also earned First Team All-EAGL All-Around and Second Team Uneven Bars and Floor Exercise to add to her impressive resume with two years of eligibility remaining. Classmate Alyssa Straub (Nazareth, Pa.) additionally had a solid season (37.560 RQS) all-around to take home Second Team All-EAGL All-Around honors. Juniors Danielle D’Elia (Colts Neck, N.J.) (9.815 RQS) and Jenna Zito (Rockaway, N.J.) (9.825) also picked up accolades as Second Team All-Floor Exercise representatives.
The team continued its excellence in the classroom, as 15 student-athletes were named to the EAGL All-Academic Team – tied for the most in the league.
The highlight of the year for the Scarlet Knights (13-11) was the team performance at the EAGL Championships in Pittsburgh. RU broke the program record for its team score at the event, passing the mark of 193.625 set just one year ago. Gunzelman recorded the highest-ever all-around placing by a RU gymnast at the meet with a fifth-place finish (39.125), including a personal-best on the floor exercise (9.900). Rutgers notched its second-highest score in school history in any meet with a 49.125 on the floor exercise, the event in which the team performed strongest all year. D’Elia and Zito put up marks of 9.850 and 9.825, respectively, in the event. The squad did not have to count a fall – one of the team’s goals leading into every meet.
Looking back to the beginning of the season, the Scarlet Knights opened the year at home against New Hampshire. It was the 12th-straight season the two programs met in the gym to open the campaign. The meet marked the first for Levine as head coach, as he replaced legendary mentor Chrystal Chollet-Norton after an illustrious 25-year tenure. Sophomore Luisa Leal (Cali, Columbia) led the way that afternoon in early January with a 39.000 first-place all-around score.
The team then took to the road for meets at West Virginia and Pennsylvania, improving the team score but falling by the slightest of margins. Rutgers stayed optimistic heading into a home quad meet and took first to even its record at 3-3. Gunzelman registered her career-high (at the time) in the all-around (38.925) and Zito put up a personal-best 9.850 with her floor routine.
Rutgers improved its team score the following weekend at a quad meet at Pittsburgh in what was a good opportunity for the team to familiarize themselves with the equipment in the Fitzgerald Field House before heading there later on in the year for the EAGL Championships. Straub had a stellar performance with a 9.825 on the vault, while Gunzelman took first in the all-around for the second-straight week (39.075).
The annual “Pink Meet” was held on February 11 at the Livingston Recreation Center. RU improved to 5-1 at home with freshmen Sara Skammer (Dallas, Pa.) and Anastasia Halbig (Schwenksville, Pa.) having solid days, providing contributions to the team in their first season with scores of 9.725 on 9.650 on the vault, respectively.
Following the tri-meet victory, the Scarlet Knights hit the road once again to participate in a quad meet at Maryland, as sophomore Alexandria Ivol (Woolwich Twp., N.J.) notched a season-high 9.675 on the uneven bars. Levine believed the team left some points in the gym that night, but Rutgers regrouped to set a new season-high score on “Alumni Night,” 192.400. A standing-room-only crowd witnessed another strong RU performance on the floor exercise, in addition to a first-place 9.875 mark by Halbig on the balance beam.
D’Elia notched a 9.900 on the uneven bars to lead a quad meet victory at Cornell on March 3. Halbig (9.800) won the balance beam once again, with graduate student Leigh Heinbaugh (Sicklerville, N.J.) and junior Emma-Rose Trentacosti (Ridgefield Park, N.J.) finishing in a tie for second (9.775), which were also personal-best scores for the duo. Gunzelman (9.875) won the floor exercise with a career-high mark, while junior Nicole Romano (Livingston, N.J.), a consistent part of the rotation, placed in second (9.775).
It was an emotional afternoon at the Livingston Recreation Center for “Senior Day” on March 10. The program honored its five departing gymnasts – Alexandra Belvis (Hinsdale, Ill.), Melanie Brother (Crofton, Md.), Danae Johnson (Silver Spring, Md.), Nicole Schwartz (Somerset, N.J.) and Heinbaugh – in a ceremony following another excellent showing on the floor exercise (48.000) for the home crowd. Three Scarlet Knights eclipsed 9.800 in the event as the team put up a 192.900 in the final home meet of the season.
The regular season wrapped up with a tri-meet at William & Mary, the last opportunity to prepare for the EAGLs. Rutgers finished in second to lead into the team-high score in Pittsburgh the next weekend.
Even with a litany of highlights on both the team and personal level, Levine believes that the program is still on the rise and ready to contend at the national level. The contributions of the five departing gymnasts will be missed, but a solid foundation was laid in 2012 for future success for the Rutgers gymnastics program.
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