Courtesy of Yale Athletics

After almost two full years without competition, the Yale gymnastics team is eager to perform in the winter with four new first-year additions to its roster.

After the COVID-19 pandemic cut their season short in 2020, the gymnastics team has not been able to get back on the floor in almost two full years. With the addition of four new first-years to their 17 person team, the gymnasts are eager to get back into the swing of things in January as part of the new Gymnastics East Conference. 

“We are extremely excited for our first year class and what they bring to our competitive lineups this season.” interim head coach Andrew Leis said. “On top of their talent level they are a hard working and positive group in the gym and are ready to represent the Bulldogs this season.”

The four new team members — Oren Aviad ’25, Emma David ’25, Nadia Drutau ’25, and Claire Qu ’25 — joined the team this past fall. They, along with five other other sophomores, have never competed at the collegiate level so far. 

Leis added that there is no added pressure for the upcoming season with the “long layoff” the team experienced. He is confident that gaining competition experience will be “invaluable” and only improve the team for the future. 

In an interview, Riley Meeks ’23 said “Yale gymnastics has not competed since March of 2020. So it’s been years and I think that has given our team a lot of perspective and a lot of gratitude to be able to do gymnastics and compete.”

Additionally, Meeks believes that the team has “a lot of fire and heart,” which she thinks will transfer onto the competition floor very well. 

“The team first mentality is what makes this group so special, starting with our senior class,” Leis said. “Their outstanding leadership has helped set the tone of our program and they are more than ready to help this team continue its recent success.”

However, their biggest inspiration this year has been to compete for their beloved, “late legendary coach, Barbara Tonry,” Leis said in an email to the News. 

Tonry died on July 12, 2021, after being head coach of the Yale Gymnastics team since its inception in 1973. Following her passing, Andrew Leis, the former assistant coach to the team, became the interim head coach through the 2021-22 season. 

According to Leis, he is “extremely grateful and excited for the opportunity to lead Yale Gymnastics this year,” but he does know that he has “big shoes to fill.” The “tradition, history, and success” of the team was what first drew Leis to Yale and has inspired him ever since. 

Leis is joined this year by Morgan Ross, who filled the role of assistant coach in October. Morgan has made an “immediate impact” said Leis, coming from a Division I gymnastics program at the University of Alaska. Ross has spent the last three seasons as a volunteer coach at the University of Maryland. 

“I am honored to join Yale Athletics and work with Andrew Leis to grow the legacy of athletic and academic achievements cultivated by the late Barbara Tonry,” Ross said to Yale Athletics. “It is my goal to encourage and inspire the next generation of athletes to carry on this esteemed tradition.”

For the short-term, the team’s goals are to compete in front of their fans and showcase all their skills they’ve been fine tuning during the fall preseason. Over the long-term, the team hopes to bring another Ivy Championship to Yale and “continue to break individual and team records,” said Leis. 

As interim head coach during the preseason, Leis believes that his team is strong on all four events — floor exercise, balance beam, vault, and uneven bars — bringing “depth, difficulty, and unique skills” to all four event lineups.

Yale Gymnastics is a part of the Gymnastics East Conference, a new conference set up with eight of the top gymnastics programs on the East Coast. The conference includes teams from Brown University, College of William & Mary, Cornell University, Southern Connecticut State University, University of Bridgeport, University of Pennsylvania, West Chester University and Yale University.

Leis and his team “cannot wait to bring [their] big energy and big gymnastics back to JLA starting in January.”

The Yale Gymnastics team’s first competition this season is on Jan. 9 at home in the Lee Amphitheater against LIU, Brown and West Chester. The team will also host the Ivy Classic this year at home on Feb. 27.

Paloma Vigil is the Arts Editor for the Yale Daily News. She previously served as a DEI co-chair and staff reporter for the University and Sports desks. Past coverage includes religious life, Yale College Council, sailing and gymnastics. Originally from Miami, she is a junior in Pauli Murray College majoring in Psychology and Political Science.