The Quakers have gained momentum at just the right time in the season.
For two consecutive weeks, the Red and Blue have set a new season record for team total score, and broke 191.000 points for the first time in 2016 last week at Towson. While many gymnasts have had a hand in this surge, it would not have been possible without the actions of one particular gymnast: junior captain Rachel Graham.
An Albuquerque, N.M., native, Graham is the youngest of the three team captains and has played an integral role on not just this year’s team, but on each team here since she joined the program in 2013.
Her introduction to gymnastics at Penn was very similar to her introduction to gymnastics overall — through her family.
“I have two older siblings, and they were both already doing gymnastics, so I just grew up with it,” Graham said.
One of those siblings, Katie, was a gymnast at Penn from 2008-2012, and helped to introduce and familiarize Rachel with the program here, which certainly helped make her transition onto the team more seamless.
During her freshman season, Graham immediately moved into a key role, stepping into the lineup each of the squad’s 11 meets on vault and floor and eight meets on the beam. Last year, Graham helped to lead the team an Ivy Classic title.
As Graham progressed in the program, she continued to succeed both in and out of competition, so much so that coach John Ceralde tapped her as a team captain even though she is just a junior. However, the choice was not hard for Ceralde to rationalize.
“There are a lot of things that factor into being chosen for a captain. They have to show leadership, discipline and commitment. Rachel is well-grounded and very focused. She definitely knows how to lead by example,” he said.
For Graham, the captainship represents what she loves the most about the team.
“It means a lot to be able to be there to support all of the girls, and I’m really lucky to have two other awesome girls to work with who are some of my best friends, and we just really love working together,” she said.
Graham’s style as a captain is very much in line with why Ceralde picked her as a captain — she is focused and positive, both inside and outside of the gym.
“Generally I try to have a great attitude and try to stay focused in competition, and just keep that positive attitude going throughout the team,” Graham said.
With only one week to go until the Ivy League Championship, the Penn gymnastics team heads to New Brunswick, N.J., on Saturday to square off with Rutgers, Temple and Ursinus.
The biggest change for the Quakers in recent weeks as opposed to at the beginning of the season has been their performance on beam. The team struggled in its first two meets, but it has pushed its team score into the mid-48s in the past few weeks. Graham has been right in the middle of that. Two weeks ago, she set a new personal best and tied for fifth best in program history with a score of 9.850, and her scores have consistently ranged from the high-9.6s to 9.7s.
“We’ve just been working so hard in the gym, we’ve really been working on our mental game as well as our physical routines,” she noted.
Graham has also been an integral part of the squad’s year-long success on floor, their most consistent and highest scoring event. Averaging a score of 9.620, she has competed and placed in Penn’s top five scorers on floor at all five meets so far this season.
With Graham and the rest of the team heating up, the Quakers’ prospects for the rest of the season are looking good. With Ivies just around the corner and conference championships only a few meets afterwards, Ceralde and the rest of the team have much to be excited about.
“The team, along with Rachel,” Ceralde said, “is looking forward to more success down the road.”
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