The Maryland Terrapins gymnastics team made their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance Saturday at Historic Rec Hall on the Campus of Penn State University. The participants included the Florida Gators, the defending national champions and number one team in the country. The other ranked schools were twelfth ranked Oregon State and the host school, Penn State, ranked fifteenth. The unranked teams joining Maryland were both Wildcats - Kentucky and New Hampshire. The Terps entered the meet as the sixth seed and finished in the same spot.
A balanced start
The Terps opened on balance beam with freshman Sarah Faller leading off the rotation. The confident, self prepossessed North Carolinian took a small hop on her landing but got Maryland off to a solid start with a 9.70. Junior Dani Kram followed Faller with another confident performance improving slightly on Faller's opening score registering a 9.725.
Ebony Walters, who has been a bit hit and miss on her beam routines this year struggled a bit in the third spot. Though she stayed on the beam, Walters had a major bobble in the middle of her routine and took a step on her dismount and her 9.60 score reflected that. Elizabeth Manzi who has often been a rock for the gym Terps caught a bit of Walters' nerves. While she stuck her dismount, the routine had several major mistakes and she recorded Maryland's lowest score - a 9.35 in that first rotation.
Shannon Skochko's routine rallied the Terps as she performed without a major break and locked in a 9.725. Anchoring the Terrapins, 2013 All-American Stephanie Giameo had a strong routine full of difficulty. However, even Giameo fell a bit short of her likely expectations. She had Maryland's best score but her 9.80 is unlikely to send her back to the NCAA for a chance to repeat her AA performance. The team score of 48.575 both fell far short of the team's best of 48.950 scored just two weeks ago at the EAGL but left Maryland with a long climb to move their placement up. After the rotation ended, a review prompted the judges to adjust Faller's score up from 9.70 to 9.725 with a concomitant increase in the team score to 48.600.
Disappointment on the floor
After the first of their two byes, Maryland moved to the floor exercise where Oregon State had just scored a surprising 49.100 since I saw two of their gymnasts step out of bounds on tumbling runs. Another freshman, Emily Brauckmuller, took the lead off position for the Terps and with a step on the out of bounds line on her tumbling run only managed a 9.60. Dani Kram was having a strong routine until she came up short landing her final tumbling run and had to put both hands on the mat to prevent a fall.
Alex Zimmerman got the Terps back on track with a routine free of major errors scoring 9.75 - the team's best to that point. Centering the rotation, Stephanie Giameo matched her 9.80 beam score. Following Giameo, Karen Tang made her first appearance on the mat for Maryland. In a routine that proved eerily similar to Kram's Tang looked to be in full control until her final tumbling run. She too came up short and both hands hit the mat. Her score of 9.275 reflected the error and assured the Terps of having to include a disappointingly low score in their floor rotation. Ebony Walters anchored Maryland and she, too, had a small step out of bounds though she recorded a 9.775 - the Terps' second highest score on the rotation. However, the Terps team total of 48.225 was their lowest since scoring 49.200 the opening meet of the season.
Rallying on the vault
Maryland regained some momentum on the vault which, due to the location of the press seating I couldn't see well. There could have been few errors as, beginning with Karen Tang, everyone hit their vault well. Tang and Nikki Chung each scored 9.825 getting the Terps off to a strong start. After Faller returned to action with a 9.80, Giameo's string of 9.80 scores ended as she came up just short of that but still managed a solid 9.775. Kathy Tang boosted the gym Terps' score even further with a 9.850 matching her season high and helping to propel Maryland to their season high team score of 49.075.
Though the Terps would finish up after their second bye with what had become their strongest event of the season, the bars, the early hole had already proved far too deep. With a three rotation score of 145.925, even an unattainable perfect team score on the apparatus they could only top out at 195.925.
Closing on the bars
As she has for much of the season, Elizabeth Manzi got the Terps off to a good start at 9.725. But with Penn State finishing on the floor and very much in the running to overtake Oregan State and advance to the championship round, the crowd grew more boisterous with every chance for rhythmic applause and every stuck landing. At this point, either the Terps or the judges became distracted and the scores leveled off. In the end, the Tang sisters led the way for the Terps with Kathy scoring a 9.800 and Karen following her closing with a 9.775. However, the Terps again failed to put together a complete performance and scored 48.600 - also among their lowest scores of the season.
And in no great shock, when the final scores were posted, the Florida Gators had captured the meet and the home team Penn State passed Oregon State for second place earning the region's other spot in the national championship tourney in Birmingham in two weeks.