Usually when a team loses its best athlete to injury, the absence is palpable.
That’s not the case for Penn gymnastics, who has hit the ground running this season and is off to a 2-0 dual meet start. The Red and Blue notched at least 190 points in both meets — a score they haven’t reached this early since the 2003-4 season.
And here’s the catch: the Quakers have done that without their best gymnast at full strength.
Junior Dana Bonincontri is returning from a knee injury, similar to one she suffered during her freshman season. While she is normally an all-around gymnast competing in all four exercises, she has been almost exclusively limited to the uneven bars this season. This past weekend, she was cleared to also compete on the beam.
So how good is Bonincontri? What exactly are the Quakers lacking this season?
“She could have gone to any [Division] I school on a scholarship,” coach John Ceralde said.
Bonincontri has lived up to her praise. She was the Eastern College Athletic Conference Athlete of the Year last year, as she won the all-around at the ECAC championships. The feat qualified her for NCAA regionals, at which she narrowly missed the nationals cutoff by fifteen-hundredths of a point.
But realistically, her list of achievements from last season alone would nearly fill this page.
Not too shabby for a then-sophomore.
Winning ECAC Athlete of the Year “was really exciting because it wasn’t exactly just based on how [I] did at [one] meet,” Bonincontri noted.
Of course, with great results come great expectations, which brings the focus to this season.
Bonincontri is setting the bar high for herself.
“I’d like to do as [well] as I did last year,” she said.
Of course, that won’t be easy. Returning from injury never is.
“During the season, you’re just perfecting your routines you already have,” Bonincontri said. “[I] have to work on getting my routines back, as well as making them as good as possible, so that’s a challenge.”
On the other hand, it’s too early to put anything past her — she has come back strong from injury before. Despite a knee injury two years ago, she still took home an ECAC title on uneven bars.
She has also been competing at least partially in meets so far this season, and according to coach Ceralde, she looks strong in practice.
“She looked real good,” Ceralde said as practice ended Tuesday night.
Ceralde isn’t being overly optimistic in his observation: Bonincontri just won ECAC Specialist of the Week in her return.
It is still unknown whether or not she will be back to full strength by the time Penn hosts Wilson, Brockport and New Hampshire, on Feb. 10. Bonincontri will assuredly, however, return to the floor and vault, the latter of which she is the defending Ivy Classic Champion and the Quakers’ scores will likely improve even further.
When Bonincontri says she hopes her team can “repeat, and win Ivies again,” her words aren’t empty at all.