Conventional wisdom says that if the gymnastics team wants to recapture the Ivy Classic title they will need strong leadership. But considering what the Elis were able to accomplish without their head coach and with their captain on the sidelines this weekend, their prospects look stronger than ever.

The Bulldogs continued their string of solid performances this season at the Fox Run Invitational this weekend. Despite placing third out of four teams, the Elis received their highest total team score yet with a 187.525. The University of New Hampshire nabbed first place with a score of 194.375; Minnesota scored 193.875, good for second place; and Temple finished last with a score of 182.200. The strong result came even though Yale head coach Barbara Tonry was absent Saturday due to family illness.

Freshmen continued to pace the Bulldogs. Kimberly So ’09 and Alina Liao ’09, the two most recent ECAC Rookies of the Week, tied for fourth in the all-around competition. So also earned fourth on the vault with a score of 9.750 and led the Bulldogs in the beam with a score of 9.600. In the floor exercise, Miki Seltzer ’07 scored a 9.650, Yale’s highest result in the event.

Seltzer also excelled on the vault, scoring a 9.600. Sarah Peterson ’07 posted Yale’s top score in the uneven bars with a 9.525.

The Bulldogs said they were excited about the result, especially after last week’s meet against MIT. Although the Bulldogs easily routed the Engineers, a Division III team, team members said they did not feel that their performances were up to par. UNH and Minnesota, who are able to offer scholarships, provided much stiffer competition, and the Bulldogs responded to the challenge accordingly.

“The fact that we knew we were going up against really good teams motivated us to put our best foot forward and not give anything away,” Seltzer said. “MIT was a practice meet; there wasn’t as much pressure to hit everything perfectly.”

The numbers tell the same story. Lauren Tatsuno ’09 said going into the meet that the Elis’ number one goal was to reduce the number of falls to seven after last week’s disappointing 12. But they surpassed their expectations with only five falls.

“We accomplished all our goals,” she said.

The team’s success in Durham, N.H., came in spite of other obstacles as well. Injuries continued to hinder the team’s lineup with star vaulter Jessica Tai ’07, Sarah Hughes ’09, Cynthia Leung ’08 and captain and all-around mainstay Anne McPherson ’06 all out.

But McPherson was able to fill another role for the team — substitute coach, joining assistant coach John Lavallee.

“Since I wasn’t competing, I could focus more on the team as a whole instead of my own personal performance,” she said.

Seltzer commended the team for stepping up to face the challenge of competing without the accustomed leadership.

“It’s good to know that even without our head coach, we all have enough faith in each other that we can coach each other,” she said.

Other members were asked to step up and join the lineup in place of injured players, including Laura Lombardi ’08, who made her debut on the beam. Seltzer said the team’s ability to fill holes caused by injury will be crucial come Ivies.

But before the Elis can start thinking about the Ivy Classic, they must face even tougher competition in next Friday’s meet at State College, Pa. The meet will pit the Bulldogs against Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers, all of whom have very strong gymnastics programs.

Characteristically, team members said they remain unfazed about the high level of talent they will face.

“This week was a good stepping-stone to next week,” Seltzer said. “We’re going to have to build on what we did this weekend, and I have faith in the team that we can do that again.”

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