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Penn gymnastics coach John Ceralde will need strong contributions from his freshmen in the 2016-17 season.

Credit: Alex Fisher

Penn gymnastics is looking for a fresh start.

After placing a disappointing fourth place at the Ivy Classic last season, Penn is hoping to raise its performance level with an impressive group of six new recruits. And if the opening meet of the season was any indication, this class is ready to help the Red and Blue get back to the top right now.

The team’s freshmen thrived at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, where Kellie Flavin started with a score of 9.650 on the uneven bars and fellow rookie Alex Kothe added a 9.525. Tara Mills completed her collegiate debut with a mark of 9.600 on the vault towards the end of the meet.

Emma Cullen, who scored a 9.725 on the bars, spoke about her impressions of college gymnastics so far.

“The main difference between college and high school gymnastics is the sense of teamwork,” Cullen said. “In my past experiences, the sport has been mainly focused on individual performances rather than as being part of a team.”

Cullen’s resume does show that her individual abilities should be regarded highly; she has competed in the Level 10 Junior Olympic National Qualifier. But despite her individual accolades, her greatest satisfaction comes from the girls wearing the Red and Blue around her.

“Coming into Penn has been a difficult transition for many of us, but we were still able to feel welcome and quickly fit in with the rest of the team,” she said. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience to see everyone else cheer for me during the meet. I appreciate them, because this is a side of the sport I really have not experienced before.”

The other recruits also have their own list of notable accolades: Natalie Borden is a three-time Level 10 qualifier to the Region 5 Championships, both Kothe and Flavin qualified to the Level 10 Junior Olympic National Championships in 2016, Mills led her high school team to two state titles and an undefeated season, and Caroline Mitsch has been a Level 10 competitor for three years.

But while the Red and Blue are gaining plenty in terms of new skill and ability, the rookie gymnasts have made an equal impact outside the arena by bringing their own excitement and winning mentality to the team.

“Like all the other previous classes, the new group is also bringing a high amount of camaraderie,” coach John Ceralde said. “Expectations are different for us this year since we know that we have a great opportunity to achieve a lot of goals.”

Although Penn gymnastics is full of new talent for this year, one may suppose that the team is maybe missing some needed experience since only three seniors remain: Jill Fordiani, Rachel Graham, and Kelly Tan.

However, the team does not believe that this is an issue at all.

“Everyone on the team is a leader,” Graham said. “Whether any of us are a freshman in the first week of school or a senior about to graduate, we come in motivated and determined to be leaders within our own team.”

With a determined mentality, strong leadership and teamwork, and an impressive group of recruits, Penn gymnastics is hoping to reach successful heights once again.