Yale Athletics

Although a fall in warmups nearly kept Jade Buford ’20 out of the ECAC Championships and a foot injury sidelined Jacey Baldovino ’21 from two events, the Yale gymnastics team defended its 2017 ECAC title this past Saturday.

Turning in stellar performances at the championship meet despite injuries, Buford and Baldovino took home the ECAC Athlete and Rookie of the Year awards, respectively, this past Saturday at Penn.

Channeling the consistency that Buford and Baldovino have shown all season, Yale performed all 24 routines of the competition without any falls, a testament to the physical and mental discipline of the entire team. As a precision sport — the balance beam, for example, is 3.9 inches wide — fall-free performances are noteworthy even at the collegiate level.

“I knew our team was talented, but anything thing can happen in this sport,” head coach Barbara Tonry said. “The team that is most consistent on that particular day should come out the winner. Yale’s energetic and spirited team wanted this championship and they got it and they deserved it. We had no falls because they started believing in themselves and were so positive. That attribute is so important in this sport.”

Buford was Yale’s top all-around scorer at ECACs, notching a 39.150, the second-highest all-around individual score. The shoulder injury sustained during warmups did not appear to affect her performance. Buford’s score of 9.925 on floor exercise set a personal record.

“The 9.925 is very special because it proves that my extra attention to the details in my routine … [is] paying off,” Buford said.

The nearly flawless routine at ECACs began with a double pike — two backwards somersaults in the air, in piked position — landed with just a step back. In NCAA gymnastics, the step in Buford’s landing did not trigger a deduction; landings need to be controlled, but not necessarily “stuck” perfectly according to the collegiate standards.

Buford’s next tumbling pass was a front somersault in layout position with a full twist connected directly into a front somersault in a piked position. Connections like this require tremendous precision in the landing of the first somersault so that the gymnast may have sufficient power to “punch” into the following one. Buford executed the pass without error.

In addition to her clean and powerful tumbling, Buford showed her grace and artistry on floor throughout the season. Her routine is set to music from the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which, beginning with castanets and the strums of a flamenco guitar, immediately highlights Buford’s expressive choreography. Her music is from a fight scene, and her dance throughout conveys a lethal struggle against a killer, to whom she eventually succumbs, according to Buford. She balanced elegance and strength in her interpretation of the choreography, making use especially of dramatic drumbeats in the music and other cues.

Buford passed on her 2017 ECAC Rookie of the Year title to teammate Baldovino, who seemed destined to capture the award after winning Rookie of the Week seven times this season. Baldovino contributed consistent all-around scores for Yale for the majority of the season, but recently injured her right plantar fascia and had to withdraw from the vault and floor lineups at ECACs.

“I was devastated to not be competing,” Baldovino said. “I felt as if I was letting my team down by not pushing through the pain especially because I knew that everyone else had their own pains. The captain, Alli Bushman [’18], and several of my teammates reassured me though that this is what a team is. When someone can’t compete, we rely on others to step in for us. It gave me peace to be reminded that we had so many capable people ready to take my place.”

Tonry echoed this sentiment, mentioning that many gymnasts who were not originally slated to compete were ready to do so.

Baldovino did, however, appear on her standout event, balance beam. Although not as physically taxing as vault and floor, Baldovino’s beam routine still required her to begin or end each of her skills on her right foot, considerably more difficult given her injury. Nevertheless, Baldovino stuck her dismount and earned her a 9.900, a second-best beam score both for her and in Yale history.

“After I stuck my dismount, I was honestly just so happy I was able to get through the routine with the pain in my foot, and that I had the privilege to compete beam for the team,” Baldovino said. “The 9.9 was just icing on the cake.”

Both Baldovino and Buford have qualified to compete in NCAA regionals as all-arounders, and Jessica Wang ’19 has qualified as a specialist on the uneven bars.

Raymond Gao | raymond.gao@yale.edu