Freshmen boost Terps to NCAA bid

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After losing All-American Katy Dodds to a season ending injury, three freshmen joined some reliable upperclassmen as the young gym Terps rallied to capture a sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

With two returning All-Americans - senior Katy Dodds and junior Stephanie Giameo - and coming off a fourth place finish in the 2013 NCAA regional, the Maryland gymnastics team entered the season with high expectations. The Terps were ranked twenty-fifth in the preseason poll and, in addition to a strong freshman class, Coach Brett Nelligan also looked forward to the return of a healthy Kathy Tang whose success in all-around competition had helped to propel Maryland as high as fourteenth in the previous season.

The Terps opened the season on the road at Central Michigan and had a difficult meet posting what proved to be their lowest score of the season. They returned home for the first of two dual meets against West Virginia and, though they improved their score, their team remained significantly below the previous season's early meet scores.

The injury bug hits

The gym Terps suffered a huge blow in their third meet of the season at North Carolina. During warmups, Katy Dodds, who was expected to anchor the team, suffered an injury to her achilles tendon that would sideline her for the remainder of the season. The injury drained the emotion from the squad and their performance suffered. Things went from bad to worse in the next meet at EAGL foe New Hampshire. Although Karen Tang had the best night of her career, her sister Kathy who along with Giameo, had been competing in the all-around, jammed her ankle. The younger Tang would miss one meet and was limited to competing in just two events for the rest of the season.

With nine days to prepare for a four team EAGL meet Nelligan knew his freshman would be thrust into more prominent roles. Following the example set by the squad's new team leader, Stephanie Giameo who registered her best all-around total to date, the freshmen - in the form of Emily Brauckmuller Nikki Chung, and Sarah Faller, stepped up and the team rallied to register a team total of 195.225 - their best score of the season to that juncture.

Maryland's youth began to show as, for the next several meets, scores took a slight dip then flattened out and were consistently below the 195.000 that they would likely need to return to the NCAA Tournament for a sixth consecutive year.

Stepping it up

Then came senior day and another dual meet against West Virginia. With Dodds wearing a boot and watching from the sideline, her fellow seniors, Jessie Black and Elizabethe Manzi provided crucial routines on beam and bars that both settled and lifted the team. Giameo responded with her best all-around score of the season and Karen Tang - also competing in the all-around - went her one better with the best score of her career. Consequently, the gym Terps rang up their best team score of the season at 195.525 and took great momentum into their final EAGL Tournament.

New Hampshire proved both a kind and unkind host for Maryland's last appearance as an EAGL member. The setting was kind in the sense that Maryland's upward trend continued as the gym Terps bettered their season high team score from the previous week. With an NCAA bid on the line, Maryland's 195.700 would prove just enough to earn the Terps a spot in the tournament. The meet was unkind in that the Terps were unable to upend the home team and repeated their second place 2013 league finish.

Disappointment at State College

The sixth seeded Terrapins traveled to State College where they were seeded sixth among the six teams participating in the Penn State regional. Maryland drew a difficult rotation opening on beam followed by the first of two bye rotations. They had solid, if unspectacular rotation on the beam with the 48.600 better than their average score but well below the 48.950 they'd registered at the EAGL.

Surprisingly, floor exercise, which had been the Terps best event all season, proved their undoing at Penn State. Whether it was the pressure of the tournament, some disappointment with their beam scores, or a loss of momentum because of the bye, Maryland had two uncharacteristic breakdowns and recorded their lowest score since the first meet of the season. That score, 48.225, created too deep a hole for any realistic chance to improve their placement and the Terps finished the meet in sixth place.

Peeking around the corner

Looking ahead, the future seems bright for Maryland. The freshman gained valuable experience and should only improve. Early indications are that Katy Dodds has been granted a redshirt year and that she will return for another year of competition. Finally, the move to the B1G should also provide opportunities because, while the competition will be stiffer, the league carries a higher level of prestige than the EAGL and simply competing in this league Will Likely change outsiders' perceptions of the program.

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