With two events left in the preliminary round of the USAG national championship team competition, the gymnastics team found itself lagging in seventh place. Since only the top-4 teams in the field of eight advance to the finals, the Red thought the competition was over. However, Cornell rallied on the floor and vault to climb to third place, earning a spot in tonight’s final round and making history as the first non-scholarship program to advance to the finals.
By posting its highest team score of the season at 190.700, Cornell barely edged past Centenary (189.75), Rutgers (190.225), and fourth-place finals qualifier William & Mary (190.275). The Red surpassed 190 points for the first time this season, finishing just behind UC-Davis’ 191.475 points and Texas Woman’s 191.250 points.
In addition to the team success, five Cornell gymnasts qualified for the individual event finals on Saturday – junior Kari Kucera and sophomore Leslie Gregory in floor, sophomore Colleen Davis and freshman Sari Tepper in vault, and sophomore Meagan Gilbert qualified in both floor and vault.
Cornell got off to a shaky start on the uneven bars and balance beam events, and was trailing in a distant seventh place with the meet halfway finished. Head coach Paul Beckwith, speaking prior to learning the final results of the meet, recalled the mistakes on bars and beam as potentially dooming the team.
“We had to count some falls and mistakes on those events,” Beckwith said. “[Junior] Christina Baez had a fever of 102 this morning, and she certainly wasn’t at her strongest today on the beam, but it happens. As a team, we also had some minor mistakes on the bar, and they hurt us.”
Things changed dramatically when Cornell took to the floor for its third event, with Cornell receiving scores of 9.600, 9.675, 9.725, 9.775 and 9.775 from freshman Elyse Gottschalk, senior Cathy Schnell, Gilbert, Gregory and Kucera, respectively. The loudest cheers of the entire meet were for Schnell, the lone senior on the team, who had her best floor exercise of the year in what might have been her last collegiate gymnastics meet. Cornell’s 48.550 team score in the floor exercise was the highest of the eight teams represented.
Entering the last event, Cornell had moved to fifth place and needed to cover almost .6 points on its nearest opponent to qualify for the finals tonight. The Red’s hopes for the finals again appeared in jeopardy after Schnell and junior Randi Bisbano missed their vault landings, but Gregory, Gilbert, Davis and Tepper delivered with scores all exceeding 9.675. The team’s score on the vault, 47.875, was the third-highest score on the apparatus of the day.
With the meet concluded, the gymnasts assembled in the center of the gym to hear the results of the qualifying round. After the announcer gave the final scores for Centenary and Rutgers, the Cornell gymnasts and their fans began cheering in unexpected jubilation.
Archived article by Stephen Davis
Sun Staff Writer