Last Friday, the Yale gymnasts found themselves in a familiar location, but this time around, they competed for a much greater reward: a national championship.
The Bulldogs traveled to Philadelphia last Thursday to compete at the USA Gymnastics Women’s Collegiate National Championships at Penn’s Palestra. This season marked the first time in over 10 years in which the gymnasts qualified as a team.
Yale competed in the second four-team bracket on Friday evening, taking on Seattle Pacific University, the University of Bridgeport and Penn. Bridgeport and Seattle Pacific finished in the top two, advancing to the Saturday team finals, where they finished second and third, respectively, behind Lindenwood University.
In the preliminary session, the Bulldogs were harmed by a shaky performance on beam that closed out their meet. Their team total of 189.500 was their second-lowest score of the season.
“We were obviously disappointed, because you never want to leave competition feeling like you could’ve done better, and we did feel like we could have done better,” captain Morgan Traina ’15 said. “But it was great to qualify for this meet.”
Much of the difficulty was due to a season-low 45.725 on the fourth and final event: beam.
As one of the more psychological events, beam is often difficult to compete at the end of a meet because falls tend to snowball. However, according to Traina, each slip-up was caused by a different injury or mistake.
“Beam is a mentally taxing event,” Tatiana Winkelman ’17 said. “It was rough. We’ve done that rotation three or four times already, and we’ve done well, but this time it just wasn’t in the cards for us.”
Despite a bit of foundering in the preliminaries, there were individual highlights. Three Yale gymnasts earned top-five scores in individual events, qualifying them for event finals on Sunday: Camilla Opperman ’16 on floor as well as Traina and Joyce Li ’15 on uneven bars.
Additionally, Meg Ryan ’18 made her career debut as a Bulldog after battling stress reactions in her shins throughout the season.
“At team competition on Friday one of the highlights for the entire team was being able to see Meg Ryan compete bars,” Winkelman said. “It was her first time competing her routine, and we were so excited for her. She hit a beautiful routine.”
Throughout the season, Ryan was unable to train high-impact events. Though she hopes to eventually regain all her skills and compete as an all-around gymnast, Ryan focused mainly on the uneven bars.
All the practice paid off: Ryan scored a 9.675, the Bulldog’s third-highest score on the event.
“I was actually really nervous but I knew I needed to hit and stay calm and do what I do in practice,” Ryan said. “I think the routine went well. I could’ve done better, but I did the best I could at the time.”
Ryan’s 9.675 was the Bulldog’s third-highest score in the event.
Two Yale gymnasts also placed in the top-18 of the all-around competition. Anna Merkuryev ’18, recently crowned ECAC Rookie of the Year, put up a score of 37.075 to finish 16th. The freshman, who competed in the all-around throughout the season, turned in solid performances on vault and bars, in particular.
Traina finished five places ahead of her teammate with a 37.950. The eventual all-around champion, Kierstin Sokolowski of Lindenwood, scored 38.925.
The event finals were much tighter than the all-around.
Opperman’s score of 9.750 on floor exercise tied her for 10th in a highly competitive field that saw only .150 separating the 10 competitors. The junior is coming off an impressive season in which she earned ECAC Specialist of the Week two times for her performances on vault and floor, and she also earned the ECAC Floor title last month.
Uneven bars was equally competitive, with a 0.200 difference between the top and bottom score. Traina, with a 9.750, ended up in seventh, one place ahead of teammate Li, who scored a 9.725.
“One of the best parts about being on event finals was watching the other routines,” Traina said. “We had no falls [on bars]. I don’t think anyone on floor fell either, which is rare. I think it was exactly how it was supposed to be, since you want to watch every routine.”
By qualifying to their respective event finals, Opperman, Traina and Li earned All-American honors.
The entire team was able to watch the three Bulldogs and the rest of the event finalists, though Winkelman noted it was “weird” to be sitting in the stands rather than on the floor.
The weekend marked the final time the four seniors — Traina, Li, Brianna Chrisman ’15 and Katherine Lucas ’15 — will wear their Yale leotards in competition. Winkelman complimented the seniors on their leadership by example and said their performances elevated the team to reach its full potential.
Although the team is losing four gymnasts, it will keep the solid foundation laid by its record-setting season. Both Traina and Winkelman expressed hope that the Bulldogs will continue to qualify to USAG Nationals as a team. Ryan added that she hoped the team can step up and fill the seniors’ shoes.
“Right now we’re all kind of focused on recovering a little bit,” Winkelman said. “Our bodies are hurting and a lot of people need some down time. But [this season] just shows we are good enough to make it to USAG Nationals year after year as a team. We’re looking forward, and next season we’re trying to do better.”