April 21, 2008

Seven All-Americans Lead Red to Second Place

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The Cornell women’s gymnastics team put the cherry on top of an incredibly sweet season this weekend at the USAG College Nationals. When the dust finally settled after three days of competition, the Red ended up with seven All-Americans, four school records and a USAG Coach of the Year. As a team, Cornell was the national runner-up, which is the highest place ever scored at a national meet by a non-scholarship school.
The competition commenced on Thursday, where the top-2 teams in each session of the preliminaries advanced to Friday’s team finals, and the top individuals in each session advanced to Saturday’s individual finals.
While the Red’s season was stopped short last year after failing to qualify for the team finals, this year’s team earned the advance with an impressive 192.50 overall score and second place finish in the preliminaries.
“Prelims went pretty well,” said sophomore All-American Brittany Howse. “We were really excited to make finals because we didn’t make them last year. Our goal was to make it and then to do as well as we could, basically putting everything on the line.”
In the team finals on Friday, Cornell entered as the last seed against Texas Women’s University, Towson and Centenary.[img_assist|nid=30057|title=On the straight and narrow|desc=A second-place performance on the beam at USAG Nationals over the weekend got senior co-captain Megan Gilbert a spot on the list of seven Red gymnasts who were named All-Americans.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Going into the meet, we were ranked fourth and there were only four teams competing,” said junior co-captain Stacey Ohara. “We were expected to lose so we went all out and just fed off of each other and all the good performances.”
People say a relaxed attitude can be one key to success for most athletics, and the Cornell gymnasts were no exception. The Red shattered four school records and became the highest placing non-scholarship team ever at a national meet on Friday night.
“We basically went into finals with just the idea to have fun and have a great time because we weren’t expected to do anything,” Howse said. “And it came out with a great result.”
“It was really exciting,” Ohara said. “It was a lot different from the preliminary meet. The home team didn’t compete in our section [on Thursday], so it wasn’t very noisy and we were able to focus and did what we needed to do to get into the final. The second night, which was the team final competition, it was really noisy but we were able to feed off the energy.”
Cornell began the evening on the uneven bars, where sophomore Molly Parker led the Red with a 9.70. She was followed by freshman Maddie Pearsall and junior Jennifer Yee with a pair of 9.60s. The Red’s team total of 48.175 was the second highest score of the day. From the vault, the Red gymnasts moved on to the balance beam, where Ohara led the Red with an impressive score of 9.775. Howse and fresh-man Danielle Martinez weren’t far behind with dual scores of 9.625.
“We struggled a little bit on beam still but the bars lineup did a spectacular job starting off,” Howse said.
While the women turned in decent performances in both of the first two events, the seasonal trend for Cornell gymnastics seems to be to save the best for last. The third event of the day, the floor exercise, has been one of the Red’s strongest areas all season. Led by senior co-captain Megan Gilbert and Pearsall with stellar scores of 9.8, the floor lineup set a new Cornell record with a team total of 48.800.
On the vault, the fourth- ranked team earned the top performance of the meet, setting a Cornell record with a team score of 49.025. The Red was led by freshman Kerri Lavallee, whose high score of 9.90 not only boosted the record-setting score but is a new Cornell vault record. The team’s combined overall score of 193.675 also happens to be a new Cornell record and earned the team a second-place finish to Texas.
“It was just really amazing,” Ohara said. “Everyone individually stepped it up on each event, but as a team we were really behind each other in everything we did. It made our confidence go higher and literally, we had nothing to lose. There wasn’t a whole bunch of pressure.”
Saturday’s competition saw All-American finishes by Gilbert (9.725) on the beam with a second-place finish and Howse (9.825) and Pearsall (9.80) with third- and fourth-place finishes on the floor, respectively. Other All-Americans included Pearsall, Lavallee and junior Sari Tepper earned on the vault and Yee on the bars. Head coach Paul Beckwith was also named the USAG Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season.