The Yale gymnastics team won the first ECAC championship in school history on March 18.
With a strong combination of individual performances from both freshmen and upperclassmen, the Bulldogs avenged their third-place finish to Cornell and Brown at last month’s Ivy Classic with their third-highest team score in school history at the ECAC championship meet in Providence. The Elis’ 194.600 total edged out second-place Big Red, the 2017 Ivy Classic winner, by just 0.150 points.
“I think the difference was our confidence level,” newly crowned ECAC Co-Rookie of the Year Jade Buford ’20 said. “Our coaches prepared us by telling us to not only trust ourselves but also our teammates. They helped instill the confidence that we had in our abilities by telling us that they knew we could be ECAC champs, but we had to believe it in our hearts.”
A season removed from a fifth-place finish at the six-team ECAC championship, Yale gymnastics turned a sluggish start to the season into a memorable finish. Following a fourth-place score of just 188.900 against a trio of West Coast schools on Jan. 13, the Bulldogs never scored below 191.275 throughout the remainder of the season. The team saved its best performances for the last two meets of the season, with its 194.575 at the Ivy Classic and the 194.600 total at ECACs the two highest scores in recent program history.
Coming off an all-around gold at the Ivy Classic, Buford continued her standout rookie season with a third-place finish at ECACs. Her total score of 38.950 was less than 0.075 points behind second-place Daisy Todd from Temple and 0.150 points behind first-place Lyanda Dudley from Cornell.
In addition to Buford’s individual achievement, the Bulldogs received contributions from up and down the roster. Megan Ryan ’18 led Yale and the field with a first-place tie on the uneven bars, recording a career-high score of 9.875. Ryan’s first place added the junior’s name to the Yale record book with the school’s eighth-highest individual score in bars and set the pace for the Elis, who cruised to the seventh-best mark in program history on the apparatus.
The junior changed from an all-around gymnast to a two-event specialist this season, focusing on bars and floor. According to head coach Barbara Tonry, Ryan has led by example throughout the season, which contributed to her success at the ECAC meet.
Roxanne Trachtenberg ’19 finished in the top five on bars as well, scoring 9.800, improving on her freshman-year best by 0.150 points. After losing the Ivy meet by four-tenths of a point, the sophomore said, the team attacked the ECAC meet with a special type of motivation.
“Specifically on bars, I remember feeling a bit shaky at Ivies, with all the pressure to ‘make it,’” Trachtenberg said. “After we let the Ivy title slip away, I used the fire of wanting this second chance at being champions to not just ‘make it’ but to make one of my best routines.”
Following the bars, Yale moved to balance beam. Despite competing without Jessica Wang ’19, who won the USAG Collegiate Championship on the apparatus last year, due to an early-season Achilles tear, the depth of their freshman class allowed the Bulldogs nevertheless to compete for top marks.
Emma Firmstone ’20 took fifth place and led the Elis on beam with a score of 9.800. Anella Anderson ’17 and Buford also represented the Elis in the top 10, scoring 9.750 and 9.775, respectively. Anderson’s score represented a season high in one of the senior’s final meets of her career.
“This time around, we had a better performance on beam and had very few errors on the other events,” Tonry said. “The meet at George Washington where we beat Stanford was a catalyst; they gained a sense of confidence that eluded them early on and finally understood that they were a 194-plus team.”
The best rotation for the Elis came on the floor exercise. With a season-high team score of 48.850, the Bulldogs thrust themselves into a battle for first place against Cornell. Standout performances propelled Buford and Rebecca Chong ’20 to the top of the charts; the freshmen finished second and third, respectively, with scores of 9.825 and 9.800.
Chong’s career-high score on floor was followed by a vault that kept much of the precision and quality of her previous routine, placing her third with a score of 9.750. Ryan was close behind in a tie for seventh place, and Buford finished up her all-around competition with a 9.675 mark. The performances of the two freshmen and the junior led Yale to the seventh-highest team vault score in school history, helping the Bulldogs edge out Cornell in the last rotation of the evening to take home the championship.
“The ECAC title is one that has eluded me in my years at Yale,” Tonry said. “We have been second and third over many years, but this title and this team have made it the most meaningful and one of the highlights of my career at Yale.”
With the win, Yale qualified for the USAG Collegiate National Championships, which will be held in Seattle on April 7.