by David F.P.
(Scores utilized from official USAG sources and Troester)
NEW HAVEN, CT- USAG Collegiate Gymnastics Nationals, the unique and lesser known of the three gymnastics championships was held for three days at Southern Connecticut State University this past week. What resulted was a lot of exciting gymnastics, drama, and surprises.
Any gymnast who has attained a spot on a collegiate team at any level, Division 1 to Division 3, has demonstrated a level of achievement in gymnastics that few reach. USAG nationals uses a formula to determine which teams may compete. The basic framework focuses on teams which have fewer than a certain amount of scholarships (though the exact way this works has eluded me and many a fan.)
The end result is that USAG nationals generally draws teams from Division 2, the Ivy League (which does not offer athletic scholarships, though Penn doesn’t usually attend), and other division 1 teams such as William and Mary, Centenary, Temple, Air Force, and Rutgers, with other appearances from teams like Towson (though they were absent this year) but have been present several times before, and other teams like UC Davis and the like.
This year the top seven ranked USAG teams, (Texas Woman’s University, Centenary College, Cornell University, University of Bridgeport, College of William and Mary, Temple University, Air Force Academy), and host SCSU were brought in to compete in the team competition, and individual competitors qualified from Yale, Brown, West Chester, Rutgers, and Seattle Pacific University.
There were a multitude of storylines here, plenty that I am not aware of, but TWU arrived as the defending USAG champion, Cornell came in the door as the reigning Ivy Classic Champion, Bridgeport was ECAC Division 2 Champion and was celebrating a year of team record high scoring and renewed press attention on the Purple Knights. UB had put together a year which was leading it to be topping plenty of ECAC D1 teams in the rankings, and now it had a chance to take on three of them in Cornell, William and Mary, and Temple.
Air Force had already been on a swing up east to take on New Hampshire earlier in the year, and remains the lone service academy in the United States to sponsor a women’s gymnastics program (although the other two have men’s programs.) Centenary, the host of last years championship’s arrives from Louisiana and is an extremely rare visitor to the northeast area, even TWU made a trip to Pennsylvania last season as well. Seattle Pacific generally outscores numerous Division 1 teams in the rankings as well and was ranked 8th in the USAG standings, but still sent numerous gymnasts in for individual events. Rutgers was coming off a tough year in the team scoring department but qualified a small army of gymnasts based on their individual merits. West Chester’s lone representative, freshman Alli Aquila qualified for the All Around and represents a program rebuilding after being cut and summarily restored a few years ago. Brown was represented by Chelsea Binkley, and Vicky Zanelli, both of whom were part of the freshman class last year, that joined with this year’s freshman class has boosted the team’s depth and sent the scores shooting upward in combination with their veterans.
Now to the competition. The various crowd’s filled in to the field house balcony seating on Thursday night for the opening eight way meet, followed by Team finals on Friday. There were TWU fans wearing bald skullcaps, Bridgeport fans with painted chests, Cornell fans with their signature hand signs with the iconic C, and plenty of other fans from the various schools represented, naturally Southern had their own large cheering section.
Night 1 and 2.
Both nights were a furious pace of gymnastics as four events were operating simultaneously, for nearly five hours night 1, and the traditional time the next. The result of night one was TWU asserting their early stake for the lead posted a 192.850 in the semi-finals. Bridgeport finished over a point behind with a 191.325, Cornell and William and Mary followed picking up the last final qualifying spots with their 190.880’s putting them nearly a point ahead of Temple’s 189.9 with Centenary, Air Force, and SCSU following . All of the team’s had relatively good days on Vault on Floor (though the top 5 teams all topped 48 on Vault, though every team but TWU were in the 47 range.)
That threw a lot of the difference in scores to Bars and Beam. The top 6 scored relatively close on Bars, and Centenary put together a score that was second only to TWU in the meet and Air Force and SCSU both had tougher days. Beam would also play a role, with TWU, Bridgeport, Cornell all topping 48s and W&M the lone team to get in the 47 range, though SCSU had a 46.925. Beam would come to play a major role in the outcome of the championships.
The All Around competition also was underway with a total of twenty all arounders competing. It was a close one with 14 competitors within 1.5 points of the eventual champions and as was true in the team competition, one tough event can easily knock the score down, as several of the gymnasts with lower placements were in it until one event passed. The three co-champions with a score of 38.725 narrowly edging the next closest gymnast, were Katie Canning from Temple, Rashonda Cannie from TWU, and Alina Liao from
Yale. Top ranked All Arounder Lorraine Galow from Bridgeport hit on three events, but had a tougher day on Beam, though she has two more years to continue her high scoring ways. Canning had been ranked number 2 in the USAG rankings in her sophomore year, and Cannie was fourth in her freshman year. Liao a senior competing for the last time at the collegiate level, has competed in the All Around in every collegiate meet she has attended that has had an All Around competition, and has won her share of them.
W&M’s Kristin Milardo (7th ranked going in) made it up to 4th place, followed by Marisa Schneider of Centenary, and Maddie Pearsall (14th in the rankings) who finished 5th. It would have been an exciting meet even if it had just been the all arounders as it was quite an assembly of talent.
Night 2 brought four teams back to go for the championships and the rowdiness continued on a Friday night in New Haven. After rotation 1, TWU was in the lead with a score of 48.575 on Floor, William and Mary was second with 48.125 on Vault, Cornell followed with a 48.05 on Beam, and Bridgeport sat at 46.775 on Bars. By Rotation 2, TWU was at 97.25 after their Vault, Cornell had a 95.725 following their high impact Floor rotation though had to count a lower score, William and Mary was at 95.325 after Bars, and Bridgeport was above 94 but had a 48 on Beam. At this point no other team scores would be announced after the third and fourth rotation. Fans would have to keep track of the individual scores as they were announced otherwise, it was a blackout.
Bridgeport, had excelled at Beam though was in a hole due to their Bars score, but they took to the floor exercise and hit top to bottom with no score lower than 9.675. Cornell moved to the Vault and banged out a 48.825, the top score of the meet on that apparatus. TWU took to the Bars and scored a 47.025, and William and Mary survived the Beam as well hitting a 47.750, but most fans didn’t know those scores had come through.
For Rotation 4, Bridgeport moved to the Vault, William and Mary went to the floor, TWU the Beam, and Cornell the Bars. Bridgeport picked up a 48.375 on Vault good enough for only the third best team score of the day on the event, but had hit three scores above 48 since the Bars. Cornell’s Bars score of 47.125 brought them back down a bit, but they were still bolstered by their Beam and Vault scores. William and Mary finished with a bang posting a 48.025. For TWU, the story has largely been told already, falls led to a 46.525. Despite very high scoring on Vault and Floor, the final two rotations knocked TWU to a close fourth. All four teams proved they could hit Vault and Floor that day. All four had lower scores on Bars, but it was the nefarious beam that is so often used for dramatic emphasis on TV broadcasts, that was the difference that day. All that being said it was a very close meet. Each team had their highs and lows in the effort and if nothing else it was proven how good the four teams are in the first place.
Day 3-Event Finals.
Most of the fans were treated to a format rarely seen in collegiate gymnastics in the northeast, the individual event final. Every gymnast had the arena’s full attention for their routine, no simultaneous competition, just alternating gymnast by gymnast. The first two events were Beam and Vault, each gymnast got to vault once, then there would be a beam routine, then another Vault with the two VT scores averaged together. The Bars and Floor were paired together for alternating after that. It was a nice departure from the organized chaos of the quad meets and the like.
The teams all marched in again as a whole prior to the event starting, with the individual qualifiers as well. The individuals carried their own team signs into the arena, while the teams themselves had a staffer doing so. The last individual to march in was Alina Liao alone carrying the Yale banner in her hand in an ironic twist for a representative from a team that lost countless gymnasts to injury and illness, and for someone competing in their last meet.
Competition was soon underway. All but the actual competitors were allowed on the floor, and the teams were now up in the stands cheering them on. In the Vault it was a close competition. Katie Canning from Temple picked up her second title of the competition when she hit a 9.825. Brittany Parker from TWU edged Kaitlyn Watson of Temple and Tiffany Chen of Cornell for 2nd place with a 9.762 to their 9.750. Lorraine Galow and Rashonda Cannie weren’t far behind to place in the top 6.
On the Beam, it was a very close affair top to bottom as the 9h place gymnast scored with .2 of the winner. Stacey Ohara of Cornell picked up the title with a 9.85, her teammate Melanie Stanbridge was second with a 9.8, Tonya Pipkorn of TWU and Emily Repko of Bridgeport picked up 9.75s, Parker and Justine Basely of SCSU were right behind them with 9.725s, and Canning and Caroline McAvity of Bridgeport narrowly missed the medal stand with their 9.7s, Alina Liao of Yale and Kristie Costa of TWU both had 9.675s in a razor thin meet, devoid of nearly any falls.
The Bars is always exciting as fans watch to see who will stick their landings, and a ton of gymnasts did so to the gleeful cheers of the various fans. Like Beam, things were also very close in this event. Every gymnast hit to some degree and the margin of victory was 1.725 from 1st to last place. Alina Liao of Yale and Brianna Schwartz from SPU hit 9.750s to take the title, Kaysha Heck also of SPU picked up third with her 9.725, and right behind her was Rashonda Cannie of TWU, Marisa Schneider and Alyssa Zawieja of Centenary all had 9.7s for fourth. Aftan Boudreaux, Kristie Costa, Jennifer Yee, Jen Stack, Sarah Darst, and Mackenzie Lant weren’t far behind given the close scoring even though they didn’t make the medal stand.
On the grand showcase that is the floor, things were especially close at the top. Tonya Pipkorn of TWU and Amie Boles also of TWU hit 9.850s to take the win. But four other gymnasts came in third thanks to 9.8s. Katie Canning, Alina Liao, Marisa Schenider, Melody Smith of SPU. Rashonda Cannie just missed the medal stand with a 9.775, and Breanna Collins, Maddier Pearsall, and Corinne Williams were right there as well.
(In order to get the report up in a timely fashion these are links to routine lists for each team. TWU and Centenary are constructed from the USAG event itself. The other links to other six teams are from past meets. I will compare the routines at USAGs to the past routines soon. The Individual Event routines from Semi-Finals, and Event Finals are from USAGs. I will work on IDs as well. There’s a lot of routines to go through. Also there are no Vaults for TWU and Centenary as the camera angle was difficult. However some TWU Vault Routines will be added when I break down team finals. More updates to come.)