Yale Athletics

Last season saw unprecedented success for the Yale gymnastics team, with the 2017 squad claiming its first-ever Eastern College Athletic Conference title and cementing its place in school history. Following changes to the coaching staff and the introduction of five new gymnasts to the roster, this year’s team is gearing up to potentially make an even bigger splash.

The Bulldogs, led by Head Coach Barbara Tonry, who is now in her 46th year in the position, return all but three seniors from last year’s title-winning team. In addition to the five first years who have already begun to make significant contributions, the Elis are bolstered by the return of Jessica Wang ’19, the 2016 USA Collegiate National Balance Beam Champion who missed all of her sophomore campaign due to a torn Achilles tendon. The team has already faced several injuries in the young season, and remaining healthy will be crucial for the season’s prospects. However, if the Bulldogs’ 191.550 score at the season opener this past Saturday — the highest season opening score in the team’s history — is any indication, they will be favorites to defend their ECAC title.

“Despite a few setbacks, I am excited about this year’s team and the tremendous potential,” Tonry said. “The team has the possibility of doing as well as last year, or even better, and the unity among team members this season seems to be great. We set our goals for the year as threefold: taking the Ivy Classic Championships title, taking the ECAC Championships title, and qualifying for the USA Collegiate National Championships.”

During the offseason, Tonry welcomed James Williams to the coaching staff as the team’s assistant coach. Williams brings ample experience, having been a USA Gymnastics coach for 13 years. Alongside Williams, five first years — Jacey Baldovino ’21, Charlotte Cooperman ’21, Alyssa Firth ’21, Isabelle Lee ’21 and Rowan Palmer ’21 — joined the squad and announced their arrival in dominating fashion at Saturday’s meet, in which the Bulldogs faced off against Big Ten opponents Rutgers and the No. 21 University of Illinois, as well as ECAC rival Southern Connecticut State University.

The Elis claimed second at the meet, trailing only the Fighting Illini. Baldovino started her Yale career with a bang, claiming second place in the all-around with a score of 38.650 and earning recognition as ECAC Rookie of the Week. Cooperman, who had suffered a torn ligament in her thumb, for which she will undergo surgery this week, was awarded ECAC Coaches’ honors by scoring a 9.650 on the balance beam despite her injury.

“We did lose a lot of talent from last year’s graduating class,” said Emma Firmstone ’20, who was the team’s second-highest scorer in the all-around. “But the class of 2021 has added so much talent to the team and is going to be extremely successful over the next four years.”

Also making a long-awaited return was Wang, who competed for the first time since 2016. The former national champion sprained her ankle at the meet, but taped it up and earned a 9.825 in uneven bars, good enough for third overall. Wang will be contributing in the bars and balance beam for the Elis this year in her comeback campaign.

Wang and the first years join the returners from last year’s breakout team, four of whom — Kiarra Alleyne ’19, Jade Buford ’20, Rebecca Chong ’20 and Megan Ryan ’18 — earned first-team All American honors at the USAG Collegiate National Championships. The team is captained by Allison Bushman ’18, who competes primarily on the bars. She, Ryan and Sloane Smith ’18 comprise the senior contingent on the team.

Following their promising start at Rutgers, the Bulldogs will compete in five meets before the Ivy Classic at Brown, an event they finished an underwhelming third in last season. Three subsequent meets separate the Classic from the ECAC Championships, where the team will have the opportunity to defend its title and prepare for Nationals. These three meets will be the focus for the team who will be looking to walk away with one or more titles.

“Our first meet showed a lot of promise for the rest of the season … beating a Big 10 team gives us confidence moving forward that we can succeed,” Firmstone said. “[The Ivy Classic and the ECAC championship] are our two most important meets of the year, and our goal is to win them both. All of the girls are putting in so much work in order to make this team goal possible, and I think that this year we have a better chance of achieving it than any previous year.”

Yale will host its home opener this Saturday against Penn, a dual meet pitting Ivy League foes.

Brian Yeo | brian.yeo@yale.edu