There were girls in red doing flips and cartwheels on the floor of Newman Arena — but it wasn’t the cheerleaders at a basketball game. It was the Cornell gymnastics team making final preparations for the USAG National Championships that will begin this afternoon at 4 p.m.
The hardwood has been taken over by the vault, bars, and beam, and the Red will host the nation’s best as the team and individual competitions get underway.
“Last year, we missed team finals by 25-thousandths of a point, after having been in first for the first seven of eight rotations,” said Cornell head coach Paul Beckwith. “And then we messed up on bars … we did it to ourselves, nobody else jumped up and beat us. Our strategy in team preliminaries is to hit everything. You’ve got to go all out … that’s the way to get into team finals.”
In the two and a half weeks since its seventh place finish at the ECAC championships, the Red has been practicing and putting final touches on routines to prepare for this week.
“I think we’re all really excited,” said senior Shellen Goltz. “Nationals is one of the most fun meets of the year because there’s so many teams. And it’s the last meet of the season so everyone wants to do everything they can. It’s always been so magical, this meet. Being a senior, it’s just the perfect way to end my career.”
Goltz was an All-American at last year’s meet, earning a second-place tie in the beam competition. Sophomore Randi Bisbano was the Red’s top performer last year, taking home All-American honors on both bars and beam. Bisbano was practicing for the all-around yesterday for the first time since injuring her finger in the second meet of the year. The third All-American returning for the Red this year is sophomore Stephanie Ohler, who won the preliminary competition on bars on her way to All-American recognition.
Today, these three athletes will take the first step towards a repeat performance, as competition opens with the preliminary rounds in the team and each individual event. The top-8 teams will advance to the final round on Saturday night, while the top-4 individuals in each category will advance to the finals on Sunday.
“We have several individuals who have a good shot at finals,” Beckwith said. “[It’s about] what you’re ready to throw and what you’re not, on an individual basis. We haven’t picked the lineup yet. Basically, we know our top people but we’re going to see who’s warming up the best and who looks the best.”
Seventeen teams are entered in the women’s field, with Centenary and Texas Women’s entering the meet as the teams to beat. Teams from Alaska-Anchorage, Seattle Pacific, Arizona State, and Vermont will also be there.
But even though there are favorites, Beckwith emphasized that anything can happen once the competition gets underway.
“The scoring around the country has been so different this year,” he said. “The scores all over the northeast have been much lower than the rest of the country. For the teams we haven’t seen yet, it’s very difficult to say how our score of 190 compares to their score of 192. It’s very up in the air. All the teams coming in are so close anyone could win. If everybody hits, then we really know who’s the best team.”
And things are no more predictable in the individual events.
“Things happen, like somebody who you don’t think has a chance all of a sudden does the vault of their life and sticks it and gets up in [finals],” Beckwith said. “You just never know.” Although the team is feeling some butterflies, each member of the Red is ready for a shot at the national championship.
“I think it’s only natural to be nervous,” Goltz said. “I think all of us are a little bit nervous for the competition, but not for any particular reason just because we want to do our best.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor