In her first year competing as a Bulldog, gymnast Jessica Wang ’19 walked away a national champion after Yale spent a weekend competing, both as individuals and as a team, at the USAG National Collegiate Championships.
The meet, hosted by Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, marked the end of the 2016 gymnastics season, and saw competition from full gymnastics teams on Friday and Saturday, and individual performances on Sunday. Wang advanced to the individual finals in beam, where she captured first place in the nation, and also finished fourth in bars. Brittney Sooksengdao ’16 joined Wang in the finals on beam, where she earned a fourth-place result. The Yale team as a whole finished fourth in the second of two Friday semifinal sessions, concluding its season with a 192.350 — seventh overall for the meet. The score was the team’s second-highest of the year, and surpassed the score Yale attained at last year’s Nationals by almost three points.
“[The team] really did have an amazing season, putting up our highest team score [on March 10] in  years and also the highest [Regional Qualifying Score] since 2003,” captain Camilla Opperman ’16 said. “I think the biggest change that I’ve seen is the confidence in each of the competitors, especially the younger girls. We started the season off a bit timid; now, every girl on the team walks out on to the competition floor knowing that they will hit their routines.”
While Yale fell to Brown, Lindenwood and Texas Woman’s University in the team portion on Friday, the Elis shone in beam. Though at ECACs two weekends ago the team suffered three falls, this weekend it hit six out of six routines, clinching a 48.775, the highest beam score in Yale’s history. In the process, Sooksengdao and Wang advanced to the finals, where Wang tied Yale’s best score of all-time with her championship-winning routine.
On Friday, Wang led the session overall with a 9.850, nabbing the top qualifying spot for individual finals and tying Yale’s second-place all-time score. On Sunday, she one-upped herself with a 9.875 to inscribe her name atop the record books. Sooksengdao also qualified for individual finals on the apparatus with a 9.800, which was her season-high and ranked her fifth. Like Wang, Sooksengdao improved on Sunday, recording a 9.825 to finish in fourth. By virtue of their finishes, both women earned All-American First Team honors.
“It honestly hasn’t hit me yet that I won beam,” Wang said less than an hour after the final scores were announced. “It was an overall great meet. Both [Sooksengdao] and I hit our beam routines to the best of our ability, and it was so great … The support from the team is really helpful. Even though our team couldn’t be on the gymnastics floor [Sunday], they were in the stands cheering their wildest. It really motivates you and brings your spirits up when you compete.”
Yale’s bars lineup took a hit when illness kept Roxanne Trachtenberg ’19 — who has competed on beam, vault and bars throughout the season — from participating. This meant every routine on bars contributed to the final score, rather than the best five of six, including falls from Tatiana Winkelman ’17 that forced Yale to count an 8.375 in its overall 47.400 score. However, both Wang and Allison Bushman ’18 tied their career high on the apparatus with a 9.850 and 9.800, respectively. The 9.850 was the second-best individual score on Friday, enabling Wang to move on to the final day of competition in a second event. On Sunday, Wang posted a 9.800 to drop to fourth in the country on bars.
The Elis also competed in floor and vault, starting on floor where Opperman and Kiarra Alleyne ’19 led Yale with a pair of 9.800s. Sooksengdao followed up with a career-high 9.675, completing what Opperman called Sooksengdao’s best floor routine as a Yale gymnast. Yale finished the first rotation with a 48.400, which ranked fourth in the session. The Bulldogs rotated to vault, where Opperman again notched the top score for her team with a 9.700, tying her career high. Anella Anderson ’17 also had a career performance, achieving a new personal best with a 9.600. The team walked away from vault with a 47.775, more than a point behind first-place Lindenwood.
The team also had three all-around competitors, with Wang leading Yale scores in just her second all-around of the year. Her career-high 38.775 put her in fifth for Friday’s session. Megan Ryan ’18 and Anderson posted 38.525 and 38.175, respectively, with the latter score tying Anderson’s previous career-best. Though she did not qualify for finals, Winkelman was named to the All-American Second Team on balance beam, and Wang earned All-American Second Team honors in all-around.
“Looking back, we were strong and steady throughout the entire season, and I think that is something that’s hard to do with gymnastics with all the injuries — once you get to the end you can get tired,” Winkelman said. “It was great to watch us build, and never have a little lapse in our energy. [The 2015 season], when we first made it to nationals and scored another record-high team score, shows we can build not only throughout the season but year-after-year. It makes me very excited to see what we can accomplish in the future.”