Courtesy of Yale Athletics

The Yale gymnastics team cut its break short, returning back to New Haven on Dec. 29 to prepare for its first meet.

After a tough start in their first two competitions, the Bulldogs are set for the start of their conference campaign. On Saturday, the Elis travel south to Philadelphia to take on the Quakers in their Ivy League opener in an attempt to avenge last season’s result.

“We have an extremely talented and hardworking team this year, including six wonderful freshmen which make up over a third of our team,” captain Tatiana Winkelman ’17 said. “This is the largest team the program has ever had, and as such, we have an incredible amount of depth on each event. The Yale gymnastics program has been on the rise in recent years, and we are looking to build off the successes of last season and have another record-breaking season.”

Last year, the Bulldogs qualified for the USA Gymnastics nationals in April for the third year in a row, while also recording the fifth highest team score in an individual meet in program history.

On Jan. 7, Yale kicked off its season at the Little Boston Invitational College Session against George Washington University. The Bulldogs fell in a close loss to the Colonials by a score of 195.550–191.425, capturing a record high mark in the season opener. Nearly a week later, the Elis flew west to California to compete in their second meet at UC Davis against the Aggies, Stanford and Boise State. Although Yale finished last in the meet, there were noteworthy performances from several Eli competitors — most notably Jade Buford ’20, who garnered the third-highest scored floor routine with a score of 9.775 and fourth place in the all-around with a mark of 38.325.

Buford’s performance at UC Davis, in conjunction with her fourth-place all-around finish at the Little Boston Invitational, earned her ECAC Rookie of the Week honors.

“As a freshman, I didn’t really expect to come in and compete all-around so it is really exciting experience,” Buford said. “Even though I made a few small mistakes, I felt really good about my performance on Friday. I feel very honored to have won Rookie of the Week and it feels awesome to represent such a great team at this prestigious university.”

Buford has dominated headlines in the first two meets, but she is far from the only key freshman to watch on Yale’s roster this season. Rebecca Chong ’20 has already demonstrated her prowess on the vault, coming in fourth at the first meet of her collegiate career with a score of 9.700. Her finish was followed closely by another freshman, Emma Firmstone ’20, who finished seventh on the same event with a 9.600.

However, the team’s talent extends beyond its youth. Kiarra Alleyne ’19 is the team’s floor specialist, Allison Bushman ’18 and Winkelman are the squad’s premier uneven bar performers and Ella Anderson ’17 remains a threat in the all-around.

But the Bulldogs are not without their setbacks. In addition to losing two seniors, one of last year’s top performers, Jessica Wang ’19 — the 2016 USAG balance beam champion after earning a Yale program-record 9.875 on beam — will miss all of the 2017 season with a torn Achilles, which she sustained late in 2016.

Last year, the Elis finished in third at the Ivy Classic and sixth at the ECAC championship. This year, in spite of Wang’s injury, the strength of the underclassmen has rounded out the program enough to push them forward.

“We are definitely planning on placing better at both competitions,” Sloane Smith ’18 said. “We brought in a group of six really strong freshmen who contribute a lot to our lineups this year. In addition, we have stronger floor and vault lineups which were our weaker events last year.”

The first Ivy contest will begin at Penn at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, while the Ivy Classic will take place Feb. 25 at Yale and the ECAC Championship will be held on March 18 at Brown.