PISCATAWAY, N.J. (May 4, 2012) – Rutgers gymnastics reached new heights in 2013 after recording four of the top six team scores in program history, putting four competitors in the NCAA Regionals. The team RQS of 194.740 was the best ever by the Scarlet Knights.
“When looking back at the season, the improvements that were made from last year to this year were tremendous,” second-year head coach Louis Levine said. “We were able to step up the level and execution of our routines and put up some big scores. That was what we had been striving for and now we want to keep pushing that on an even more consistent basis. I know we haven’t reached our topping-out point.”
The highlight of the season came on Senior Day when Rutgers notched a program-record 195.975 to win a quad meet. It shattered the previous high of 195.400 set back in 2000.
“It’s pretty amazing, this is what we have been pushing for,” Levine said after the meet. “We have to keep striving to get better and better but I do not want to downplay this moment. We have built towards this all season, knowing we were capable of this type of performance.”
Following the meet, the program recognized a group of seniors who helped boost the standards of the Rutgers gymnastics program and provided a superb example of what being a student-athlete truly means: Danielle D’Elia (Colts Neck, N.J.), Nicole Romano (Livingston, N.J.), Emma-Rose Trentacosti (Ridgefield Park, N.J.), Jayne Jeffreys (Jackson, N.J.) and Jenna Zito (Rockaway, N.J.).
“They set the standard of what we wanted of hard work and consistency from practice to practice in their effort and their outcome,” Levine said. “They came in to a much different team than where we are now. They came into a struggling team and they were a major reason for the success this year. We will miss them. Hopefully they’ll still come around and we’ll see them throughout the year. They set the tone and hopefully the underclassmen will step it up to take their place in leadership.”
Numerous memorable individual performances helped RU reach high marks throughout the season, with D’Elia, junior Luisa Leal (Cali Columbia), junior Alexis Gunzelman (Tabernacle, N.J.), freshman Claudia Salinas (Allendale, N.J.) and freshman Jenna Williams (Bordentown, N.J.) all earning All-EAGL honors.
After missing most of the 2012 season, Leal returned without missing a beat to earn EAGL Team MVP. The junior’s highlight of the season came in the March 8 meet at Towson where she broke her own school all-around record with a 39.500 to win EAGL Gymnast of the Week. Leal placed at least tied for first in every event, notching a career-high 9.950 score on the floor exercise. One of the judges deemed the routine a perfect 10, as it was the highest RU score in any event on the season.
“Some of the performances that stick out to me were the 9.9s and Luisa breaking the all-around mark at Towson,” Levine said. “The girls worked really hard all season and we had more depth than ever to make practices competitive to make the lineup. It was great to see the different people step up and contribute.”
Floor exercise proved to be the most successful event of the season, with RU posting a 49.005 RQS and breaking the school record at 49.250. The record was also broken on the vault at 49.100 in the Senior Day meet. The uneven bars were an event that the Scarlet Knights improved most in by notching the best mark at the EAGL Championships (48.900). Rounding out, the balance beam progressed as the year went on, as RU brought in an RQS of 48.625. The collection of quality scores put the team on the bubble of qualifying for the NCAA Regionals, but it was not meant to be in 2013.
“It just means we have to be ready sooner,” Levine said of just missing out. “We have to come in in January from the start and put scores up right away. Unfortunately, we dealt with some injuries early on, but that’s no excuse. We have to have the depth ready to go and be ready to push right from the start. We ran out of time this year. I think we were better than some of the teams that were ranked ahead of us but they were more consistent than we were.”
The season started off with the annual meet against New Hampshire before RU returned home to host a pair of meets at the Livingston Recreation Center. All four home meets were capacity crowds, with spectators lining the walls of the gym to stand and watch.
“We showed a lot this year about gymnastics and how much of a spectator sport it can be. People came and we really pushed to get bigger crowds to make it a fun event,” Levine said. “It always helps to perform in front of a big crowd and we’ll continue to get as many people as we can fit in this place and keep the entertainment level up as well.”
A total of seven road meets were also on the schedule, with a team record 195.550 away score at Towson. The Scarlet Knights also opened up the eyes of perennial regional contenders West Virginia and Maryland with a 195.050 midway through the season at the Comcast Center.
The annual EAGL Championships were held at the University of North Carolina, as RU brought in the best uneven bars mark in the meet on the way to a 193.925. That was the best score the team has ever had in that meet, which brings together eight competitive teams.
That led to Gunzelman, Leal, Salinas and Williams all earning bids to the NCAA Regionals. It was the biggest RU contingent at that level since 2004. Leal led the way with a 39.175 all-around score, coming just 0.025 points from qualifying for the NCAA Nationals.
Having taken a giant step forward this season, Rutgers will look to continue its upward trend in the coming years.
“Our next step is to make NCAA Regionals as a team and to have consistent week-to-week performances and I think that takes care of the making the postseason,” Levine said. “If all the girls can perform with confidence and they are hitting their routines day in and day out, then the scores are going to be there. We have been able to bring in talent and build depth to provide competition in practice. That pushes everyone to not just concern themselves with hitting their routine, but to clean up the little things to make it better.”
Even with a litany of highlights on both the team and personal level, 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 2013 for future success for the Rutgers gymnastics program.