Courtesy of Sam Rubin

Embarking on its home stretch of the regular season, the Yale gymnastics team continued its record-breaking campaign as it competed in three meets over spring break, culminating in a second-place finish at the ECAC Conference Championships on Saturday.

The Bulldogs, two-time defending conference champions, fell to Temple 194.750–194.400 primarily due to an uncharacteristic uneven bars rotation despite strong beam and floor performances. Penn took third while Cornell, Brown and William & Mary rounded out the six-team meet in that order. Individual Yale gymnasts found success at the conference championship, with Emma Firmstone ’20 finishing second overall on balance beam and 2018 ECAC Gymnast of the Year Jade Buford ’20 taking second in the all-around. Seven Bulldogs also achieved season-high scores this past weekend, five of which marked career-best performances.

“The team really banded together after [the uneven bars] and put up strong performances on the remaining three events which is something that we’re all really proud of,” captain Kiarra Alleyne ’19 said. “Of course, we were hoping to come home with another championship win under our belts, but we still have a lot to be proud of and I think this meet will only push us to be better moving forward. As a team, we know we haven’t peaked yet, so we are really motivated to make every practice count during these next three weeks of training before Nationals.”

Prior to the ECAC Championships at Cornell, Yale competed in two other meets over the spring recess. In both competitions, the Bulldogs held their own against highly-ranked opponents. The team recorded its second- and third-highest meet scores of the season — a 194.950 and 194.725 — in a dual meet at New Hampshire and a fourth-place finish at a quad meet at UC Davis, respectively.

The Elis achieved these high totals in spite of an injury to 2018 ECAC Rookie of the Year Jacey Baldovino ’21 who was held out of beam in both competitions. Baldovino and Alleyne, among others, also did not compete at the ECACs because of injury. As a testament to the depth of the Bulldog squad, various gymnasts stepped up to fill the large shoes left by their teammates and propel the team to second place in Ithaca.

Yale began the competition with a rocky uneven bar rotation, despite the event typically being one of the Bulldogs’ best. The Elis accumulated a team total of only 47.950, a drop of nearly eight tenths from their previous competition at UC Davis. In addition to an uncharacteristic fall in the event, the Bulldogs suffered other large deductions that kept their final score much lower than usual. Jessica Wang ’19, the 2018 USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Champion on the event, delivered as the anchor for the event, notching a score of 9.775 that earned fifth place overall.

Yale next moved to the balance beam, where the team scored 49.100 to earn the second-highest beam total in program history. Remarkably, the Bulldogs accomplished this despite the loss of Baldovino, the long-time anchor of the beam lineup and the school record holder on the event. The conference championship also marked the fifth week in a row in which the Elis scored a 48.900 or above on beam, demonstrating that the Bulldogs have largely overcome the beam inconsistency issues that plagued them earlier in the season.

Firmstone finished as the top Bulldog beam performer on Saturday, scoring a career-high of 9.900 which marked the second-highest beam score in Yale gymnastics history. Buford was close behind, tying her own career-high of 9.875 while Carly Israel ’20 entered the beam lineup for the first time this season and scored a respectable 9.775 in her debut.

The Bulldogs then rotated to another strong event: the floor exercise. After only performing exhibition in the event this season, Anna Jennings ’20 made her way into the floor lineup for the first time and notched a 9.550. The lineup also included three high scores of 9.800 or above from Becca Chong ’20, Firmstone and Alyssa Firth ’21. Despite suffering a mid-season ankle injury and having to alter her routine as a result, Chong delivered a 9.800 with her dynamic and engaging routine. Meanwhile, Firmstone and Firth each scored 9.850, the highest floor scores from Yale for the day and the fourth-highest in the competition.

“I felt really confident going into my routines because we have been putting in so much hard work in the gym every week,” Chong said. “It was great to just go out there and have a good time knowing I had my team to support me. The meet didn’t exactly start as we’d hoped but we had an amazing three rotations that followed which allowed us to grab that second-place trophy. We had a great meet and broke a few more records this weekend which we are all super proud of.”

However, the Bulldogs faced a disadvantage by having to end the competition on their weakest apparatus — the vault — which also features the toughest scoring in NCAA gymnastics. Coming into the final rotation, the Elis trailed eventual champion Temple by a razor-thin margin of 0.025. But the Owls also had the advantage of performing last on floor, which tends to include the highest scores of any event in college gymnastics.

Although the Bulldogs were unable to catch Temple in the final rotation, they did achieve a respectable total of 48.525 which was the second-highest team vault score in the meet. The Elis started at lower difficulty values on vault than on the other events; despite this, Chong achieved the fourth-highest vault score of the entire meet, a 9.750. Buford was close behind, recording a 9.725 for her front handspring front pike exercise.

“The team [took second] on vault against teams with 10.000 start values and outstanding training facilities,” assistant coach Jason Collins said. “This was particularly impressive given we only get to train vault two times a week and with no hard landing surface nor a full [runway.] I’m incredibly proud of that accomplishment. They are clearly making [do] with what they are given. The talent is there on all events considering our season. Now on to Nationals where we plan to peak at the perfect time.”

Although the regular season has now concluded, Yale will look to send individual qualifiers to the NCAA Regionals on April 5. The entire squad will then compete at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships, a separate competition, on April 12.

Raymond Gao | raymond.gao@yale.edu