Sam Rubin

The Yale gymnastics team competed at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships this past weekend at Bridgeport, finishing third in its semifinal subdivision and falling short of qualifications to the team finals.

Held back by injuries to key scorers including captain Kiarra Alleyne ’19, the Bulldogs tallied a team total of 193.725 — a score which left them below Air Force and Lindenwood but above West Chester. Because only the top two teams from each semifinal session qualify to the team final, the Elis’ run for the national title came to an end.

“I think that the team fought hard throughout the meet, and even though we did not qualify to finals as we had hoped, there definitely were some highlights,” Alleyne said. “One of those highlights was our performance on bars. We had an amazing bar rotation, and both [Roxie Trachtenberg ’19] and [Jessica Wang ’19] were able to qualify to event finals on that event, which was a really exciting end to their senior seasons.”

Heading into the weekend, No. 51 Yale had the second-highest regular season ranking in the subdivision, second only to No. 36 Lindenwood. The Bulldogs’ main objective was to fend off a challenge from No. 53 Air Force, who despite having a marginally lower ranking had recorded a massive 195.725 performance at the MPSF conference championships in March — a score that eclipsed Yale’s best mark of the season by more than six-tenths. This performance allowed the Falcons to upset No. 39 UC Davis to take the conference title.

Air Force achieved another upset in the semifinal on Friday, edging out Lindenwood by a razor-thin margin of 194.825 to 194.800. But the Lions regained their focus under pressure, achieving a season-high score of 196.375 in Saturday’s team final to defeat the University of Illinois at Chicago for the national title.

Although the semifinal was ultimately a neck-and-neck contest between the Falcons and the Lions, who were never more than two tenths apart from one another at any point during the four rotations, the Bulldogs remained in the mix for the top spot at the beginning of the meet. Yale began on the uneven bars, where Trachtenberg and Wang grabbed the fourth and second highest scores of the semifinal session with marks of 9.775 and 9.875, respectively. Their high scores contributed to a team total of 48.600, which sandwiched the Bulldogs in between Air Force’s 48.775 and Lindenwood’s 45.575 after the first rotation.

The Bulldogs performed next on the balance beam, where they slipped behind the Falcons and the Lions. Yale’s total was 48.100, a drop of a full point from the ECAC championships — its last team competition. Notwithstanding the loss of school record-holder and beam standout Jacey Baldovino ’21 to injury, inconsistency on beam has been a major theme of the Elis’ year, with four consecutive week-to-week score differences of more than a point in the regular season.

When the Bulldogs hit, they are formidable. Baldovino, Wang and Lindsay Chia ’22 have acted as a solid late-lineup trio capable of consistently bringing in scores in the 9.800+ vicinity, and Emma Firmstone ’20 has been a dependable contributor as well, peaking with a 9.900 at the ECACs. Still,  the lineup’s performance is volatile: the highest and lowest single event totals the Bulldogs have scored this season have both been on beam.

“While our beam rotation was not as strong as some of our recent competitions, we put up a great fight as a team to stay with it through the rotation and count five hit routines towards the team score,” Charlotte Cooperman ’21 said. “Going into floor, we were focused on not holding back and fighting for clean landings. Each routine built off of the last, and the team had some really solid performances.”

With individual scores peaking with Jade Buford ’20’s 9.775, on floor, Yale could only muster a team total of 48.575, despite the Bulldogs’ potential strength on floor. Earlier this season, Alleyne notched a 9.900, and Becca Chong ’20 and Alyssa Firth ’21 recorded scores in the high 9.800s. In the third meet of the season, the Elis put up 48.950 on floor, a score they failed to match in the following 10 weeks.

Entering vault — the final rotation of the meet — the Bulldogs trailed second-place Lindenwood by more than seven-tenths, a deficit that would be hard to make up on the Elis’ weakest event. In the end, Yale tallied 48.450, which was in line with its average over the regular season.

Despite falling short of qualifying to the national team final and ending its season on a lower note than 2018, the Yale gymnastics team still had another record-breaking year. The Bulldogs defended their Ivy Classic title from 2018, achieved three of the 10 highest team scores in program history and sent an individual to NCAA regionals for the second year in a row.

“The season was another outstanding one,” head coach Barbara Tonry said. “The team won its second Ivies in a row, and, with two top key scorers injured, we just missed the third ECAC title in a row by [three tenths] of a point. Jade Buford, who was ECAC Rookie of the Year her freshman year and Gymnast of the Year her sophomore year, repeated as Gymnast of the Year this [season] — an unprecedented occurrence. [The team is] quite a special group of young women, and I am very proud of their accomplishments.”

Yale gymnastics will enter its 48th season next year.

Raymond Gao | raymond.gao@yale.edu