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Maryland gymnastics is on an upswing, but still has more steps to take

State of the Program moves to a team that’s made consecutive NCAA Tournaments

Maryland gymnastics Audrey Barber
All-around gymnast Audrey Barber
Photo by Maryland Athletics

The Maryland sports offseason is here, and it was a wild year for Terrapin athletics. There were national championships in men’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, and a trip to the title game in field hockey. Maryland athletes won some of the highest honors in their sports. But there were also some lows, both on and off the field.

This summer, we’ll be going in-depth on every Maryland varsity program, taking a glimpse at where it’s been and where it’s going. We’ve already looked at all the fall sports — football, women’s soccer, men’s soccer, field hockey volleyball — and started the winter with women’s basketball on Tuesday. Now, it’s time for the gymnastics program, which has reached consecutive NCAA Tournaments but has even loftier goals for the future.

Maryland gymnastics

Established: 1976
All-time record: 661-566-7
Best season: 2013 (18-3-1, 11-1 EAGL, NCAA regionals)
Last 5 years: 74-55-1, 13-36 Big Ten
The coach: Brett Nelligan (entering 10th season)
Winter 2019: 17-8, 3-6 Big Ten, NCAA regionals

Where it’s been

This program has been reasonably solid throughout its history, with relative peaks and valleys throughout. Maryland has made 23 NCAA Tournaments in the 38 years gymnastics has been under the NCAA’s purview, but never advanced past the regional stage.

Bob Nelligan took the helm in 1979, becoming the third coach in the program’s first four season. He brought incredible stability, coaching the Terps for 31 seasons. And then when he retired, his son Brett replaced him. The younger Nelligan told Testudo Times last year that he didn’t come to Maryland with any plans of becoming a gymnastics coach, but got hooked while helping out his dad.

Maryland made NCAAs in Brett Nelligan’s first six seasons, but had a two-year downturn in 2016 and 2017. The Terps have returned to the postseason each of the last two years, and coming in with a No. 28 ranking this year allowed them to skip the play-in meet, a new stage in the NCAA Championships format. But there are still some obstacles in the new league. Since joining the Big Ten, Maryland has had a winning conference record just once and is 16-36 overall.

Where it’s going

This program is on the upswing, and the last two teams have been young enough to suggest that more postseason appearances are in the near future. Maryland graduated four seniors in 2019, but 19 of its 24 routines at the regional meet in Athens were completed by underclassmen. Add in four new recruits and the Terps will have the talent to reach a similar stage in 2020.

Going forward, this is another program that hopes to figure out its ceiling. Maryland still hasn’t established itself in a strong Big Ten, only once earning a night-session spot at the conference championships (2018) and never finishing better than seventh at the event. Advancing past the opening round of regionals is a greater possibility going forward, with 16 teams moving on instead of 12, but it still takes a season of work and a fantastic performance to achieve that.

Names to know

Audrey Barber has been a constant force during her two seasons in College Park, quickly becoming the Terps’ best all-around performer. She was a First Team All-Big Ten selection in 2017 and earned second-team honors in 2018, and has two more seasons to add to the accolades. Rising seniors Alecia Farina and Kirsten Peterman will be the veteran leaders; Farina was an all-conference second-team honoree in 2018, and Peterman has been a mainstay at three events.

Maryland’s best asset this past winter was its depth — every member of the roster participated in at least one meet — but the three mentioned above will lead the way as the team looks to take the next step.

The mission

There’s a goals board on the back wall of the Terps’ practice gym. Some are tangible things and some are vague coach phrases like “trust the fight.” Not every goal was met in 2019, but Maryland came close to several others — going undefeated at home (they went 8-1), reaching the top 25 (they peaked at No. 28) and making the night session at the Big Ten championships.

All of those goals will likely be back on the board in 2020, as will some even loftier ones. If the NCAA appearances keep piling up, advancing to the top 16 will be the next natural step; it’s one this program has never taken. Accomplishments like these are never easy, but Maryland might well be on its way.