It was only fitting that gymnastics captain Morgan Traina ’15 ended her meet the same way the majority of this season’s meets ended — with a new record.
“I was really nervous, so I went up to Camilla [Opperman ’16] before,” Traina said of her performance on the beam. “She said, ‘You know how to do this, you’ve done it a million times.’”
Traina, the final gymnast to compete for national championship-bound Yale in Saturday’s ECAC Championship, went on to score a 9.850, punctuating her nearly perfect routine with a flawless dismount.
This score, good enough for second-place on the beam, exceeded Traina’s previous record on the apparatus and contributed to a career-high all-around score.
“Morgan did her routine last and she just stuck her landing,” Anna Merkuryev ’18 said. “A bunch of people started crying. It was that kind of meet.”
Traina’s trajectory parallels that of the overall season, as the team has been setting then breaking new records all season.
Last Saturday, Yale hosted the five other Division I ECAC women’s gymnastics teams for the conference championship. In the team competition, the Bulldogs finished third with a 193.575, the fifth-highest team score in program history.
Additionally, individual Yale gymnasts found the podium and earned ECAC honors.
“It was nice walking away from the meet being so proud of the team,” Opperman said. “[Assistant coach] Jason [Vonk] emailed us later, saying it was the best day he’s had at Yale, and he was so proud of the team. It was so incredible to have that from [the coaches].”
Traina agreed, adding that since the coaches do not often outwardly and enthusiastically express pride in the team, it means a lot when they do.
After tying with Brown for last year’s title, William & Mary won the ECAC Championship with a 194.375. Brown was right behind them with a 194.150. Yale was next, improving on last year’s fifth-place finish, followed by Penn, Temple and Cornell, respectively.
This season was Yale’s strongest in several years, as the squad scored below 190 only once this year and earned two of the program’s top-10 scores, including the finish at ECACs.
After the 192.775-point performance against Brown on March 15, the Bulldogs officially qualified to the USA Gymnastics National meet, which will take place in three weeks. This marks the first time in 11 years the team has achieved such a feat.
However, according to head coach Barbara Tonry, the team forfeited its spot in 2004 due to injuries and did not compete. The same thing occurred in the past when Yale qualified for the NCAA Regionals, so only individuals participated.
“We all just have to maintain our routines now,” Merkuryev said. “If we hit all our routines the way we did at ECACs, we’ll do well at nationals.”
Qualifying for USAG Nationals is based on a rankings system that selects teams from predetermined brackets. Thanks to its high average team score, Yale was ranked among the top-eight in a bracket containing teams that offer fewer than seven-and-a-half full scholarships.
USAG Nationals is a three-day event that will pit Yale against Ivy foes Penn and Brown, as well as five other teams from around the country.
The eight qualifiers are broken down into two groups of four teams. The top two teams in each group advance to the team finals on Saturday.
“If we hit 24 for 24 routines, we have a good shot at Saturday,” Traina said. “The teams are pretty evenly matched, though, so we really need to build on our performance.”
Individuals who perform well on Friday may compete on Sunday, in event finals. Since only three gymnasts are selected for each event, it is a highly competitive field, though Opperman said she believes every girl has the potential to qualify on her respective event.
Traina and Opperman credited the team’s unprecedented scores to the strength and depth of the program.
“It’s hard to say, but something is a little different this year,” Traina said. “We have more people prepared to compete on every event and more people fighting for spots on events. It really lifts spirits in the gym.”
These spirits culminated in Saturday’s success, as Yale earned its highest place in 10 years in the ECAC.
Opperman, a two-time ECAC event specialist of the week, topped the rankings after scoring a nearly perfect 9.900 on the floor exercise. With this score, Opperman smashed her previous career record by nearly a full 10th.
“I just have so much fun competing floor,” Opperman said. “Honestly, when I hit my first pass, that was the big one. The second and third passes were much easier.”
After her performance, Opperman said, she went over and hugged classmate Brittney Sooksengdao ’16. Sooksengdao and Opperman previously made a pact to earn 9.9’s on their respective apparatuses — beam for Sooksengdao, the defending ECAC champion on the event, and floor for Opperman.
Traina was the only other Eli to land on the podium, and she did so three times. The captain earned second-place finishes on both bars and beam as well as third place in the all-around. Last year, Traina finished second on bars, third on beam and fifth in the all-around.
This year, only one-10th of a point separated Traina from the all-around champion, William & Mary’s Brandy Stover, the ECAC Gymnast of the Year.
Teammates Merkuryev and Joyce Li ’15 also competed in the all-around, scoring 38.450 and 38.000, respectively.
Capping a strong freshman campaign, the Nashua, New Hampshire –12.