Stepping up on the podium to receive its third-place trophy in the team competition of the USAG collegiate national championships on Friday, the members of the gymnastics team unzipped their warm-up jackets to reveal custom made t-shirts bearing the phrase “Got Scholarships?” The slogan was extremely fitting, as Cornell made history by becoming the first non-scholarship school to qualify for the team finals of the USAGs – let alone place third overall.
“Nobody expected anything from us,” said senior tri-captain Cathy Schnell. “We have no scholarships, but we proved that we deserve to be here.”
Cornell sat in fourth place through three events, but the Red had yet to compete in the vault, which has been its strong point all season – Cornell had the highest overall score on vault in Thursday’s qualifying round. Once again, the Red stepped up its performance and put together a solid score on vault to catapult itself ahead of William & Mary for a spot on the medal stand.
Because of complications in calculating the final scores, it took longer than usual to reveal the final results. When the teams returned to hear the final scores and William & Mary was announced as the fourth place finisher, a collective roar began to build in the Cornell cheering section – culminating in exuberant celebration when the announcer called for the Red to receive its award.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said head coach Paul Beckwith. “No team of our status has ever made it this far. Everybody really came through.”
Cornell finished with a team score of 190.60, a mere .05 ahead of the Tribe. Texas Women’s University finished first with a score of 192.425. Much like the Red’s strong performance on vault, the resilient Pioneers performed exceptionally well on beam – its final event – to move ahead of California-Davis for the title.
“It’s never over until its over,” said Pioneer head coach Frank Kudlac. “To come from that deficit, and finish on the toughest event, is just phenomenal. I’m extremely proud of my team.”
William & Mary edged Navy for the men’s title, while Washington won the men’s club championship with its third-place finish.
Cornell started the day on bars, where Schnell led the Red with a 9.500. The Red then moved on to beam, followed by the floor. Junior tri-captain Randi Bisbono put together a sound performance on the beam, earning a 9.800 – the second highest score of the day. Junior Kari Kucera added some salsa flair to the floor competition and scored a 9.725 with sophomore Leslie Gregory also posting a 9.700 for the Red.
On vault, where the Red made up needed points, sophomore tri-captain Colleen Davis – who led all competitors with a 9.800 – and the rest of the Red’s other five vaulters executed their vaults and did what was necessary to earn the team’s third place trophy. Schnell, the lone senior for the Red, accepted the trophy.
“This is a dream come true,” said Schnell, who received second team All-America honors on bars. “This was my last go-round. It is just phenomenal to get to accomplish this with these girls. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”
Saturday brought the individual finals and welcomed back the top-8 performers from Thursday’s preliminaries. Before the event began, Cornell’s Melanie Dilliplane was awarded Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
The competition began with vault, where Davis, Gregory, and freshman Sari Tepper all earned first team All-America honors by qualifying for the finals. Sophomore Megan Gilbert also was named an All-American, but did not perform because the USAG only allows three members from a given team to participate in the finals.
Davis put up a 9.725 – good enough for second place overall behind Meredith Smith from Centenary. Gregory and Tepper tied for eighth place.
In the final event of the afternoon, Gilbert, Gregory and Kucera put on a show for the crowd with their floor routines, placing third, fourth and sixth, respectively. All were named All-Americans.
“I love performing on the floor,” Kucera said. “You try to make it slinky, and the team really interacts with you.”
William & Mary got a little revenge on the Red as Tribe gymnasts Brittany Gibbs and Jess Randall stole the show, tying for first on the floor, and holding Cornell’s competitors out of the top spots.
The individual competition, although a showcase for some of the most talented gymnasts across the country, was a secondary priority to the team competition. And it was at the team competition where Cornell capped off its season with a performance that pushed the Red into a new tier in collegiate gymnastics. All those involved where aware of the significance of Cornell’s accomplishment.
“That is just great for [Cornell’s] program,” Kudlac said.
Archived article by Patrick Blakemore
Sun Staff Writer