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Terps gymnastics soars in win(s) at Rutgers

The Maryland gymnastics squad went on the road Saturday afternoon and put together their best performance thus far in 2015 defeating Rutgers, Cornell and Ursinus in their first quad meet of the season.

Courtesy Maryland Athletics

Saturday afternoon's gymnastics meet at Rutgers was unique and important in a few ways. It was Maryland's first quad meet (a meet with four teams competing) of the season. Quad meets are important because they provide a closer approximation of the competitive structure of an NCAA Tournament regional pod (in which six teams compete) than do dual meets.

Because Rutgers has joined the Big Ten with Maryland, there was a bit of an atmosphere of a dual meet within the quad as this meet would also serve as the teams' conference match-up. The teams will face one another again in a quad meet at West Virginia a week from Sunday but that will not count in the conference standings.

Maryland won the meet with a team score of 195.375. Trailing the Terps were Rutgers at 194.450, Cornell at 192.700 and Ursinus at 189.650. More important than simply winning the meet was the Terrapins' team score of 195.375. To reach the NCAA Tournament, a high enough Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). The RQS is a composite of a team's six highest scores from the season with the caveat that at least three of those scores must be from road meets. The lowest score is then dropped and the five remaining scores are averaged to calculate a team's RQS. Saturday's meet at Rutgers was the second time this season Maryland has surpassed 195.000 and both have come on the road.

First Rotation - Bars

In most dual meets, the visiting team starts on the uneven parallel bars. This may have provided a level of comfort and familiarity for the Terps who have competed in two previous road meets. Coach Brett Nelligan used the same gymnasts in the same order as he has in recent meets. Sarah Faller led off the rotation followed by Katy Dodds. Both put up solid scores of 9.725. Freshman Evelyn Nee took the third spot and didn't perform up to her previous level. She scored a disappointing 8.950.

In a sign of the growing maturity of the squad, however, freshman Abbie Epperson bounced right back with a terrific routine that landed her a 9.825. The reliable Tang sisters closed out the rotation for the Terps. Junior Kathy Tang matched the scores of Faller and Dodds while older sister Karen out did her sibling scoring 9.850. Karen Tang and Epperson posted the two highest individual scores on this apparatus for the meet. The 48.850 matched Maryland's highest score of the season and put the Terps in first place after one rotation. Rutgers, which started on the vault had a team score of 48.200.

Second Rotation - Beam

In a typical dual meet, the visiting team moves from the bars to the vault. In this instance, the Terrapins drew the balance beam for their second rotation. Maryland's best team score on this apparatus came two weeks ago at Iowa. The Terps didn't quite match that score but did post their second highest team score to date. Nelligan made a small tweak in the order of this rotation flipping the spots of senior Shannon Skochko and sophomore Leah Slobodin.

As always, the task of getting Maryland off to a good start fell to Faller. For the fourth time in five meets, the sophomore registered a 9.725. Only at Iowa where she scored 9.700 has she not posted this score. Dani Kram followed posting a 9.625 - her second highest score of the season. Freshman Dominiquea Trotter has been a bit inconsistent on the beam with two good scores and two poor scores entering Saturday's meet. Unfortunately, she again struggled and managed only a 9.025.

As they had after Nee's low score on the bars, the Terps stayed focused and unaffected. Skochko bounced back with a solid 9.700 and Slobodin also managed a respectable 9.675. Senior Stephanie Giameo anchored the rotation with her customary precision scoring 9.850 for the third consecutive meet and also the top individual score for the competition. Halfway through the meet, the Terrapins' lead over Rutgers was nearly half a point 97.425 to 96.950.

Third Rotation - Floor

The floor exercise has been an interesting journey for the GymTerps this season. This has traditionally been one of Maryland's strongest events under Nelligan and, when team registered a 49.100 highlighting an otherwise disappointing first meet, it appeared that the pattern would continue. Surprisingly, in each of the next three meets, Maryland put up lower scores than the previous competition hitting bottom with a 48.525 at Iowa. The Terps began to reverse the trend scoring 48.825 against Michigan and the upward trend continued Saturday as Maryland scored 49.000.

Nelligan made a dramatic change in the makeup of the six competitors for this apparatus. Things started normally with Giameo leading off as she has all season. After a season low score of 9.050 at Iowa, the senior bounced back with a 9.575 in the dual against Michigan. Her upward trending scores continued Saturday with a 9.625. Nelligan's first surprise came with the insertion of Slobodin into the spot usually occupied by Trotter. The sophomore made an emphatic statement in her first floor routine of the season posting a 9.800. Trotter stepped into the third spot and redeemed her disappointing beam routine by registering a 9.775 on the floor.

Karen Tang followed with a 9.850 -  Maryland's best score of the meet on the floor exercise and the second highest individual score. Kathy Tang matched Trotter's 9.775 and, in a bit of a surprise, Ebony Walters anchored the Terps' floor rotation taking the place usually reserved for redshirt senior Katy Dodds. Walters held the anchor most of last season while Dodds was recovering from an injury so this position was not new to her. With five solid scores behind her, the senior stepped up with a 9.800.

Heading into the final rotation, Maryland's lead over Rutgers had grown to a full point 146.425 - 145.425.

Fourth Rotation - Vault

The nation's top ten gymnastics teams have average meet scores at or above 196.000. While Maryland has a solid and consistent program, the Terrapins have not quite reached that top tier. However, at this stage of the program's growth, a team score over 195.000 is an attainable target. The Terps reached that level only four times in the 2014 season. To reach that score for the second time this season, Maryland needed to score at least 48.575 on the vault - a very reasonable target as their lowest score for the season was the 48.850 they recorded against Michigan.

Leah Slobodin, competing in three events for the first time this season, opened the rotation with another outstanding effort getting the Terps off to a sparkling start with a 9.750. Trotter followed and continued to show that she'd shaken off her struggles on beam as she slightly improved on Slobodin's score with a 9.775. Epperson, who had lifted the squad with her spectacular bars routine stumbled on her vault scoring only 9.150.

Once again, the three remaining gymnasts would have to remain unaffected by a low score if the Terps were to reach or surpass that 195.000 mark. Fortunately for Nelligan, he had three very experienced gymnasts in place to do do just that - junior Kathy Tang and seniors Skochko and Dodds. Tang started the trio off with Maryland's highest score to that point a 9.850 and Skochko followed with a 9.700. That left it to Dodds. The redshirt senior, who was an All-American on this event as a junior, performed like a champion. She registered a 9.875 - the highest individual score of the meet on that apparatus and her best of the season. Her 9.875 put the team's appartus score at 48.950 and lifted the Terps' meet total to 195.375 - their best team score of the season.

The win improves Maryland's record to 4-5 on the season and 2-3 in conference competition. The Terps return to Xfinity center Friday, February 20 for a quad meet. They will host William & Mary, Towson and George Washington. The latter will be a rematch of the season opening meet that the Colonials won by a score of 194.325 to 193.025. The meet is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m.