Welcome to SEC gymnastics. Auburn University was one of six NCAA Gymnastics Tournament Regional Sites. The six team competition featured three teams from the Big Ten - Maryland, Iowa and Minnesota - two SEC teams, Alabama and the host Auburn and George Washington. Auburn Arena holds a bit over 9,000 people and I'd estimate that the Terps were greeted by over 4,393 very loud fans (students are not counted and likely pushed the total toward 6,000) mostly from Auburn and Alabama plus a small but exceptionally vocal contingent from Minnesota.
Note: Maryland's average scores as reported below exclude the Big Ten Championship.)
First Rotation - Shocked in the Shell?
Maryland should have had a bit of a comfort level for the first rotation. The Terps opened on the vault much as they would in any home meet. The event started very inauspiciously when Karen Tang fell on her landing and scored only an 8.925 putting some pressure on the remaining gymnasts. The group responded very well under the circumstances. Leah Slobodin and Dominiquea Trotter each posted 9.775. The next three gymnasts, Abbie Epperson, Kathy Tang and Shannon Skochko all posted 9.800. For the rotation, the Terrapins finished with a 48.950. The score was just a tad under their season average of 48.993 and two-tenths of a point below their season best.
Maryland would have one of their two byes for the evening in the meet's next rotation. (Remember six team compete on four apparatuses so for any meet rotation two teams have byes.)
Second event - Uneven Bars
Maryland's next event followed the same pattern as is would in a home meet. After their bye, the Terps moved to the bars. Even bars might be a better representation of Maryland's scores. Sarah Faller started Maryland with her usual consistency - scoring 9.700. Nikki Chung followed with the same 9.700 but Evelyn Nee had a hop on her dismount and, at this meet, the judges are most unforgiving and Nee finished with a 9.575.
Epperson got the Terps back on track with a 9.800 and Kathy Tang did her best to hide the half step on her dismount but the judges also spotted that and she registered a 9.725. Karent Tang, competing with a compression wrap on her left knee, bounced back from her vault with a 9.800. The squad finished with a 48.725 - again just a hair short of their season average (48.730) but considerably short of their season high. After two events, the Terps score of 97.675 made the possibility of reaching 196.00 look more and more distant.
Third event - Beam me away
Faller got the Terps started with another "in the pocket" routine scoring 9.725. (In the pocket because her average score for the season was 9.723). Dani Kram was also on target with a 9.650. Like Kram, Trotter bettered her season average score a 9.675. When Skochko and Slobodin each followed with a strong 9.800, Maryland looked primed to put up a very big score. Unfortunately, Stephanie Giameo had a major bobble and, though she managed to prevent a fall, she scored under 9.800 for the first time this season.
This time, the Terps bettered their season average, they still failed to approach their season high. After three rotations, Maryland's team total stood at 146.325. They would hold a bye in the fifth rotation. George Washington, one team the Terrapins hoped and expected to finish above, had a bye going into the final rotation. Their total for the meet was 194.150.
The Terps needed a 47.825 or better to pass the Colonials - normally a very attainable score. However, the floor scoring had been tight all night - Iowa had scored only a 47.725, GW only a 48.425 and Minnesota only a 48.900. With a big score, the possibility of fourth place loomed, however. Iowa would compete on the beam and their 145.550 trailed Maryland after three events.
Final Rotation - Soaring on the floor
As it had been over the last several meets, it was up to the freshman Trotter to get Maryland off to a good start. She completed all three tumbling passes without a major step or fall. She accomplished that with a confident 9.700. From freshman to senior, the rotation turned to Skochko for the second routine. Skochko also put up a solid performance matching Trotter's score. Giameo bounced back from the undoubted disappointment of her beam score posting a third consecutive 9.700.
Slobodin started the final three Terps' routines in spectacular fashion. The sophomore was spot on and scored a
9,850 (Ed. note: after publication, Slobodin's score was adjusted to 9.825). Kathy Tang brought her usual energy to the apparatus and, though she was a tad off center on her landings, posted a strong 9.775. Ebony Walters, in the final competition of her college career anchored Maryland's floor rotation. Though it didn't match her best score of the season, given the strenuous nature of the scoring on this apparatus all night, Walters' 9.775 was very solid and propelled the Terrapins to an impressive 48.800.
The floor performance propelled the Terrapins not merely ahead of Goerge Washington and Iowa but into third place ahead of Minnesota. It is only the third time (1989 and 2001) that Maryland has finished as high as third in an NCAA regional. It is the Terps' highest finish under coach Brett Nelligan.
Summarizing his team's performance, Nelligan said, "We started off with an uncharacteristic fall on vault and then proceeded to rip off 23 straight hits. I was proud of the way they settled down after the first one and pushed forward."
The finish also bodes well for the future of Maryland gymnastics. The freshmen Trotter and Epperson and sophomore Leah Slobodin who is essentially in her first competitive collegiate year, absorbed the energy of a large, rowdy and partisan crowd and turned it to their benefit. "They were all exceptional, today," Nelligan said. They'll pass that down to next year's freshman."