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The Red and Blue gymnasts celebrate, despite finishing third, because of their season-best points total against powerhouses Towson and Pittsburgh on Friday.

Credit: Alex Fisher

There’s no such thing as a moral victory?

Probably true for the majority of sports, but for Penn gymnastics on Friday night, it may be reasonable to make a slight exception.

Facing a pair of highly ranked foes on the road in Towson and Pittsburgh, the Quakers couldn’t repeat their tri-meet victory from a week ago, but the Red and Blue still put together their top overall score of the season with a 191.775 point effort en route to a third place finish at the Shelli Calloway Invitational hosted by the Tigers. Pittsburgh won the overall competition with its own seasonal best score of 195.25, while Towson took the runner-up spot with a mark of 193.425.

Entering the competition, the hosts — ranked the 44th best team in Division I by — seemed to be the favorites. But an energized Penn squad helped put the Tigers behind early.

Led by a first-place finish on the beam from senior Lindsay Offutt — who went on to win all four events with an astonishing all-around performance of 39.575 points — No. 50 Pittsburgh jumped out to an early lead, but the No. 57 Quakers wouldn’t fall far behind.

Penn’s five scorers in the floor all scored at least 9.600, including a team-best 9.800 effort from sophomore Alex Hartke — despite having to repeat her routine due to an electricity failure — as the team put up a total of 48.575 in the event to take second place behind the Panthers after the first rotation.

Penn next headed to the vault, where the squad had previously struggled, only putting up a team score of 47.400 in last week’s win at Cornell. However, there would be no such trouble for the Quakers on Friday.

Once again, Penn’s depth was on display, as all five scoring athletes put up scores of at least 9.500, with senior Emily Paterson leading the team with a 9.650 en route to a team score of 48.000 — a full 0.600 points better than last week and only 0.125 off of the team’s seasonal best in the event.

Still in second place after the vault, the Quakers next went to the bars — which, partially due to injury, have been the team’s weakness all season — and, unfortunately, the squad’s struggles there continued.

Although the team got a pair of strong performances from sophomore Kyra Levi and senior Amber Hu, who scored 9.800 and 9.700 in the event, respectively, the Quakers again put up their lowest overall score in that event, taking 46.650 to fall to third place entering their final rotation.

By the end of the third round, Pittsburgh — which recorded its seasonal bests in both the floor (49.075 points) and bars (48.900) — had all but sealed the win, but Penn and Towson, which were only 1.600 points apart entering the final event, still had to fight for the day’s second place slot.

Penn battled hard in its final event, with all five scorers reaching at least 9.600 on the beam, but strong performances from the Panthers and Tigers were enough to keep the Quakers at bay. Although Hu secured her second score of 9.700 for the day and senior Elyse Shenberger led the Quakers with a 9.725, these efforts weren’t enough for Penn to break out of last place, as Pittsburgh and Towson justified their rankings with a pair of strong performances to force the Red and Blue to a third place finish.

Despite the last place effort from Penn on Friday, the reasons for optimism are still obvious, as the squad’s overall score was a full 0.925 points better than any of its other efforts this season.

Next up, the team will have one more tune-up meet against Rutgers, Temple, and D-III Ursinus – which was scheduled to compete in the Shelli Calloway Invitational before backing out at the last minute – next Saturday, before the squad heads to the all-important Ivy Classic on Feb. 28, where the team will attempt to defend its 2015 title.

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