Fresh off a season-opening performance in which it secured its highest team score in 23 months, Penn gymnastics was facing a tall order if it wanted to do something even more incredible in its home opener the following week.
But the Quakers managed to do just that — and then some.
After trailing for nearly the entirety of their dual meet against Yale on Saturday, the Red and Blue stunned the crowd with a ridiculous effort of 49.025 points in the floor exercise, pulling off a comeback for the ages in the final event and securing a wild 193.575-192.125 win.
“We had just a team huddle without the coaches right before floor, and we said, ‘Nobody can hold back on this, we really have nothing to lose,’” said junior captain Kyra Levi, who individually took third place in the event. “So everybody kind of went full force ahead, and we got it done.”
Things looked bleak for No. 42 Penn (3-1, 2-0 Ivy) for the majority of the afternoon, though, as Yale was completely in control up until that last rotation. Though Penn sophomore captain Caroline Moore took first place in the vault during the team’s first rotation, a few key errors limited the team’s score in that event to a disappointing 47.800, putting the Quakers in a tough 0.950-point deficit.
Though the team scored a solid 48.375 on both the bars and the beam — boosted by Moore’s second individual win of the day, as she scored 9.800 on the beam — No. 58 Yale (0-5, 0-1) still held a 0.525-point lead going into the final rotation, appearing primed to pull off the upset and snatch its first win of the year.
Penn had other ideas.
“After beam, we just had a little fire under our butts; we weren’t nervous, we were just motivated,” Levi said. “I don’t think at any point people looked around saying, ‘we can’t do this.’”
Taking center stage of the Palestra both literally and figuratively in the sport’s most energetic event, the Red and Blue wasted no time proving their captain right. Sophomore Morgan Hunker opened the event by tying her previous career-high with a 9.725 score. Levi followed that up with 9.825 points – her new career-high – in her third event of the day. Sophomore Nicole Swirbalus matched Hunker with a 9.725 that also marked a tie of her personal best.
With only a pair of gymnasts remaining, the Quakers found themselves in a position to pull off the incredible comeback, and Penn’s final two competitors would leave nothing to chance.
Competing in her third event despite battling strep throat, Moore did her best impression of Michael Jordan’s “Flu Game” with her greatest performance yet, as her nearly flawless routine secured 9.875 points to win her third event of the day. Not to be outdone, junior Alex Hartke scored 9.875 herself to tie Moore for the event win and emphatically conclude one of the most thrilling event rotations in recent memory.
A look at one of TWO floor routines that entered the Penn record books today and helped spur the Quaker comeback!
First up: Caroline Moore pic.twitter.com/gbWkQvdqij— Penn Gymnastics (@PennGym) January 21, 2017
“We really tried to put the past three events behind us and focus on floor and just going big, putting it all out there," said Moore, who had an all-around score of 29.375 across three events. “We’ve been training so hard in the gym and really doing a lot of pressure sets that prepare us for meet situations like this, so we all definitely felt prepared.”
When all was said and done, the Quakers’ score of 49.025 in the event was the fifth-highest in school history, and their best since March 2015. Even more incredible, all six Quakers to compete on the floor either set new career-highs or tied their previous ones, with freshman Kellie Flavin’s 9.675 joining the aforementioned five athletes.
“I don’t think any of us walked away from floor thinking that was a surprise; everybody walked away with a routine that they felt good about and that they had been practicing,” Levi said. “I think it was a confidence builder, but not a surprise.”
With the win, the Quakers stayed atop the Ivy League and snatched their overall highest team score since February 2015 in the process. Next up, the Red and Blue will travel to West Chester for their second dual meet. Should their momentum continue, the gymnastics world may see something simply unbelievable.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.