For all intents and purposes, this should be considered one of Penn gymnastics’ best-ever seasons.
But if the last word is the most memorable, the Quakers need a strong final performance to cement their successful year.
On Thursday, the Quakers will compete at USAG Collegiate Nationals in Bridgeport, Conn. Penn is seeded third out of eight teams at the meet.
The Red and Blue haven’t competed as a team in two and a half weeks — the longest gap between meets they’ve had all season.
In Penn’s last outing, it won the ECAC Championships at the Palestra, upsetting Towson by 25-thousandths of a point, and notching the second-highest team score in program history.
Had the season ended there, that victory would have been the most dramatic and emphatic way to end the historic season.
ECACs wasn’t the sole highlight of 2012, either. Penn has consistently posted scores that would rival any past Quakers squad, successfully defended its title at the Ivy Classic and collected the most wins its ever had in a season with 22.
In short, it’s difficult to imagine that USAG Nationals present a chance for the Red and the Blue to end on a higher note.
At the same time, the Quakers know what can happen after a long break.
Last year, at the same competition after a similarly long break, Penn failed to earn a team score of 48 or higher in any event, resulting in a total of just 188.7.
To put that in perspective, the Red and the Blue have not achieved a team score that low this year. A similar lapse would mark a disappointing end to an otherwise remarkable season.
“[The long break] threw us off last year,” said junior Megan Milavec, one of Penn’s four all-arounders. “People lost their motivation and concentration.”
Milavec doesn’t think history will repeat itself in 2012. While she acknowledges the Quakers haven’t had too many official practices since ECACs, she noted that “a lot of people came in on their own.”
If the Quakers do keep their focus, USAG Nationals represent a chance to build on an impressive season.
“We won Ivies back-to-back. We just won ECACs, so we kind of want to keep that going,” Milavec said.
To win another major meet, the Quakers will have to go through seven other teams, including the top-seeded teams at the meet, Bridgeport and Texas Women’s University. The latter’s roster boasts gymnasts who have won the all-around at USAGs three straight years.
Host Bridgeport beat Penn at a three-team meet earlier this year at College Park, Md., and is two-time defending champ of this competition.
While coach John Ceralde thinks the meet will be challenging, he doesn’t think the last Penn-Bridgeport showdown was a good indication of how USAGs may unfold.
“We had four falls at that meet,” he said. “We definitely had that opportunity to beat them.”
Past aside, the Quakers faced a similar situation at ECACs. Heading into the meet, Towson had already defeated the Quakers twice in 2012, and had owned ECACs in recent memory with five of the past seven titles. Nonetheless, Penn found a way to stun the Tigers.
Penn surely has the talent to win USAGs: its roster has eight of the top-12 USAG gymnasts, including juniors Dana Bonincontri and Kirsten Strausbaugh, who competed at NCAA Regionals last weekend.
The other storyline of the weekend is that for Penn’s five seniors — Laura DiPaolo, Rebecca Engberg, Katie Graham, Cari Hayes, and Claire Stingley — USAGs represents their last collegiate meet.
Graham described the feeling as “bittersweet.”
“[We’re] coming off a great season, so it’s really exciting to have another chance to keep it going,” she said. “But then it’s our last time out. It’s definitely always in the back of your mind.
The Quakers have certainly given these seniors a final season to remember, but for the last meet, they will need to make the most out of it one more time.
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