Lukas Flippo

The Yale gymnastics team achieved its highest score of the season so far, a strong 194.150, to clinch the Don Tonry Invitational title on Saturday.

In the sixth edition of the tri-meet, which was created to honor Yale gymnastics legend Don Tonry, the Bulldogs expertly navigated past the challenges posed by Bridgeport (193.150) and Southern Connecticut State University (190.525) to the delight of the home crowd.

After defeating Rhode Island College the previous weekend, it was crucial for the Elis to continue their momentum and score three wins from four meets. Not only did they do just that, the Blue and White produced a new season high for the second consecutive week with the score of 194.150. The high standards of the team across all four events on Saturday was evidently a product of hard work behind the scenes and a sign that this is a squad ready to give everything to win the ECAC and Ivy championships.

“It was a great feeling to win,” Kendal Toy ’22 said. “This meet is dedicated to our coach’s husband in honor of him starting gymnastics here at Yale, so being able to win the meet for her and in front of the alumni was an amazing feeling.”

Tonry was an integral part of Yale gymnastics since its inception. A former Olympian, he coached and taught at Yale for almost 50 years, while winning three Ivy League team titles and an individual NCAA National Championship. The late husband of current coach Barbara Tonry, Tonry was a Hall of Famer, an NCAA all-around champion, Pan American Champion and an author and illustrator of many publications including Sports Illustrated. As a result, clinching victory at the Tonry invitational held greater significance to the Bulldogs, especially considering that it would mean they bettered their second place finish in the same event last year.

Yale began its home meet with vault and picked up where it left off the week before. Alyssa Firth ’21 impressed in particular, taking the top spot with a score of 9.775. Senior Anna Jennings ’20, an ever-reliable starter this season, earned a new season high of 9.600. Fellow seniors Jade Buford ’20 and Rebecca Chong ’20 also led by example, with Buford performing a front-entry vault to earn a 9.650 and Chong posting a solid 9.300 with her well-executed Yurchenko half. Charlotte Cooperman ’21 tied with Buford and finished top 10, but it was Aimee Titche ’23 who blew everyone away with a huge 9.750 to place in the top three and continue her impressive debut campaign.

After rotating to the uneven bars, the Elis didn’t let their standards slip as Firth led off with a hit routine, receiving a 9.375 before Buford excelled with a 9.750 to finish in the top three spots. First years Caitlin Henry ’23 and Raegan Walker ’23 showed maturity in their debut performances for the meet, where they received 9.525 and 9.075 respectively. To top it off, Jacey Baldovino ’21 and Lindsay Chia ’22 cemented Yale’s dominance in the event and secured high scores of 9.675 and 9.650.

The third rotation of the day for the Bulldogs was balance beam, and it proved to be one of their best events of the meet with a team score of 48.775. Once again, the seniors lead the charge with captain Emma Firmstone ’20 and Buford ending up as top scorers and earning staggering season highs of 9.825 and finishing in joint-first place. Cooperman proved her worth again as she stuck her routine to secure an impressive 9.675, while Chia followed closely with 9.575. Firth continued her excellent day with a 9.700 and a top five finish, while Baldovino continued the trend of exceptionally high scores with her own well-executed routine garnering a 9.800.

“I am happy that I hit my routine, but I know that there is still work to be done,” Firmstone said. “I’m so proud of how the team performed this weekend! [However] there is still more to come from this team, and we will continue to work hard in the gym every day and progress at each meet. When you have a group as special as this one, it really makes being the captain a huge honor. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many amazing teammates.”

The Elis raised the bar yet again for the final event, achieving their best score of the day (48.925) on floor. There was yet another season-high for Buford with a 9.775, while Chong followed suit with her own season-best of 9.800. Captain Firmstone inspired her team with a 9.750, a score matched by Cooperman, while Baldovino posted a great score of 9.725. Just when the home crowd was preparing for the end of the meet, Firth blew everything out of the water with a 9.850 hit floor routine, which ended up becoming a career and season high for the junior.

This was still not the end to Firth’s exceptional day, as she also finished second place as an all-arounder in the meet with a magnificent 38.700. It was Buford who took first place with a formidable score of 39.000 to record yet another season-high, in what is turning out to be a stellar campaign for the senior.

“We are thrilled with our combination of upperclassmen and first years in our lineup,” assistant coach Andy Leis said. “The skill level and leadership the upperclassmen bring to our team is invaluable and it’s something we hope our first years can really learn from to help them succeed. We are looking forward to the challenge of maximizing the potential of this team as we head into our championship season.”

Yale will be performing at home again next Sunday, albeit for the last time in this 2020 campaign, when the team plays host to Brockport for a dual meet. At the meet, the Bulldogs will honor the senior class for their accomplishments in their four-year Yale careers.

Symiyk Kyshtoobaev | symiyk.kyshtoobaev@yale.edu