PISCATAWAY, N.J. (Dec. 31, 2012) – With one successful season under his belt, head coach Louis Levine returns for his second campaign at the helm of the Rutgers gymnastics team. The Scarlet Knights return heaps of talent and experience to the 2013 squad and will look to improve on its 13-11 record from a season ago. Rutgers made many strides in 2012 and will look to continue its rise in the upcoming season.
The Scarlet Knights return 10 letterwinners while also bringing in six freshmen, allowing for leadership and fresh faces to add to the pieces already in place. The team returns four seniors from a squad that progressively got better as the 2012 season went on, capping the year with its best ever score at the Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) Championships, tallying a 193.850.
Senior Jenna Zito (Rockaway, N.J.) and juniors Alexis Gunzelman (Tabernacle, N.J.) and Alyssa Straub (Nazareth, Pa.) are slated to be the 2013 captains.
This season’s schedule includes three teams who finished 2012 in the top 25 of the NCAA rankings including Penn State (No. 16), West Virginia (No. 21) and Denver (No. 23). The Scarlet Knights will also compete against seven teams that qualified for the 2012 NCAA Regional Championships, including Denver, Iowa, Kent State, Maryland, New Hampshire, Penn State and West Virginia. Rutgers opens the season at New Hampshire on Jan. 6 at 1 p.m.
“We are excited to face some highly ranked programs this year,” said Levine. “It will be a great chance to see where we rank against some of the best teams in the country.”
The Scarlet Knights bring a wealth of talent and depth with their all-arounders this season. The group is led by Gunzelman, who was named EAGL First Team All-Around and was awarded the conference Team MVP for the second-straight year in 2012. Gunzelman participated in the NCAA Regionals last season, as well.
The squad also returns Straub, who earned All-EAGL Second Team All-Around accolades a season ago. Zito was a league Second Team All-Arounder as a sophomore, and looks to make in impact again in 2013. Junior Luisa Leal (Cali, Colombia) competed in just two meets in 2012 due to injury, but garnered First Team All-Around honors in 2011as well as being named the 2011 EAGL Freshman of the Year and will look to return to form this season. Plenty of newcomers will also fight for spots to contribute, as freshmen Jenna Williams (Bordentown, N.J.) and Danielle Verdon (Freehold, N.J.) look for their chance to show off their abilities in the all-around.
Rutgers is very experienced on the vault, returning seven student-athletes who saw significant time during the 2012 campaign. Leal, who was an All-EAGL Vault First Team selection in 2011, also returns from injury.
In 2012, the team was led by Gunzelman, who compiled a season average of 9.708. Zito finished second with a mark of 9.661, while Straub ranked third on the squad with a 9.627 average. Senior Danielle D’Elia (Colts Neck, N.J.), sophomore Anastasia Halbig (Schwenksville, Pa.), senior Nicole Romano (Livingston, N.J.) and sophomore Sara Skammer (Dallas, Pa.) also return with experience. Williams and Verdon will be joined by fellow freshman Nicolette Wilson (Toms River, N.J.) and sophomore Emma Hoffman (Union, N.J.) in pushing the returners for spots in vault lineup.
“This is the deepest vault group that we have had here in my five years with the team,” said Levine. “We have the ability to put up 8-10 routines with 10.0 start values. This depth will help to push us closer to perfection as a group and will enable us to be pushing to break the team vault record.”
Gunzelman led the charge last season, averaging a score of 9.719 per competition and earning All-EAGL Bars Second Team honors. Leal was recognized with the same honor in 2011.
Outside of Gunzelman and Leal, the squad returns five other student-athletes who competed in numerous competitions on the bars in 2012. D’Elia finished second on the team with an average of 9.572 last season. Hoffman, Williams and Verdon, along with freshman classmate Aziza Day (Snellville, Ga.), look to bring their uneven bar prowess along to help solidify the event for the Scarlet Knights.
“Bars has been a point of emphasis for this team from the first day we stepped on campus this fall,” said Levine. “We have added to our depth which will create a level of internal competition that will help raise the level of execution and consistency of our lineup.”
The beam lineup returns five of six competitors from a year ago. Halbig looks to lead Rutgers on the beam this season, after totaling a team-best average of 9.684 in the event in eight meets last season. Gunzelman was also promising on the beam with a mark of 9.608.
Straub, Zito and senior Emma-Rose Trentacosti (Ridgefield Park, N.J.) will also look to continue to excite the crowd with their abilities on this event in 2013. Freshman Claudia Salinas (Allendale, N.J.) looks to step into a spot opened up by graduation. Day, Williams and Verdon look to find their way into the lineup, adding to a deep and talented group.
“With a large group of returns being pushed by the freshman, the whole beam team has raised the level of artistry and difficulty,” said Levine. “This should allow us to compete with more confidence and precision that will hopefully result in higher scores.”
The floor exercise proved to be the best event for the Scarlet Knights last season and should continue to be a strong point for the squad in 2013. On the floor, Rutgers compiled an average score of 48.485 per meet, its best average of any event.
The Scarlet Knights returns all six gymnasts from their 2012 EAGL Championship lineup. D’Elia, Gunzelman and Zito are expected to lead the way, each bringing home All-EAGL Second Team Floor Exercise recognition last season. The addition of Leal, who was ranked in the top 10 in the country on this event for parts of the 2011 season, will help to strengthen the team’s best event. The addition of Day, Williams and Verdon along with fellow freshman Katie Stebick (Waterford, Pa.) gives the team added depth with a goal of reaching new heights during the 2013 season.
“Floor exercise is the event where the team really gets to show off their personality,” said Levine. “This team should continue in the tradition set by teams of the past and continue to excel on this event.”
With a wealth of experience and talented newcomers, the squad is primed for a breakout season in 2013. The team returns numerous gymnasts who saw a lot of time in 2012 who are ready to reach the NCAA Regionals. The squad looks to improve in every event.
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