Four Ivy League schools, four different events, one trophy. Classic.
Penn gymnastics will travel to New Haven, Connecticut this weekend to take on Yale, Brown and Cornell in the conference’s decisive meet, the Ivy Classic.
If you’re just joining us, here’s how this kind of thing will play out. The teams will rotate through the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor exercise, fielding up to six gymnasts in each event and holding on to the five highest scores. And though the Quakers’ season won’t conclude until early April, this Saturday will determine which of the four Ancient Eight schools with varsity gymnastics teams is to be crowned this year’s champion.
For Penn to bring home the title, it will have to upset against not one, but both of last year’s champions. In 2016, the title was shared for the first time in history between Cornell and Brown, who split with scores of 193.325. Yale trailed with 191.650, and Penn brought up the rear with 191.050. If the Quakers don’t want to relive the defeat of last February, they’ll have to remember the team they were at the beginning of this season.
At the season-opening Lindsey Ferris Invitational back in January, Penn (4-10, 2-2 Ivy) dropped its highest score in nearly two years (193.275) and, more importantly, trounced Cornell by nearly three points.
The Big Red (7-7, 1-1), who currently hold the highest regional qualifying score of the four Ivies, will likely be Penn’s stiffest competition this weekend.
Penn also got a chance to take on Yale (5-7, 2-1) at home early in the season, defending the Palestra by taking them down 193.575-192.125 in an edge-of-your-seat, .
So how did the Red and Blue do it then? Well, against Cornell they tapped into their freshman class, and their freshman class delivered. Kelly Flavin, Alex Kothe and Emma Cullen all posted above-9.500 scores on the uneven bars, and were in turn able to support junior Kyra Levi and ensure that her remarkable 9.850 in the event was not scored in vain.
Additionally, the Quakers, led by sophomore Nicole Swirablus (9.850) dominated the beam, an event in which the Big Red dropped below 47.000 points.
Against Yale, it was a breakout performance from sophomore captain Caroline Moore, who won three individual events on the night that made helped bring the Quakers back from their 0.950-point deficit.
“We’ve just practiced so hard throughout the preseason and this past summer, so coming off of last season we were defintiely motivated,” she said. “Our only setback is our mentality, so really just switching the mentality to being positive in the and transferring that over to meets is really what’s led to our success.”
Though these early-season victories were invigorating for the Quakers, their Ivy League optimism was short lived. Penn got the chance to face both Cornell and Yale again but struggled in the pair of rematches, falling to the Bulldogs, 193.050-190.825, at the Rutgers Quad Meet and to the Big Red, 190.950-193.575, at home at the Pink Meet.
Not to mention the fact that home-field advantage is very real in this sport. Cornell won at home in 2016. Penn won at home in 2015. Brown (6-9, 0-1) won at home in 2014. What will it take for the Quakers to stay honed in on the end goal this weekend despite this? What will it take for them to get in Yale’s way?
“We just have to go in with the same mentality as we do with every other meet; we’re doing the same skills, we’re competing the same way we always do, it’s just at a different setting,” Moore said. “It’s going to be whoever wants it most that’s going to win.”
Seeing as Penn hasn’t posted a score that could best that Cornell showing since early 2015, it’s clear that everyone will have to be on their game come Saturday in order to agglomerate the most impressive aspects of the front-end of the season into one special championship performance.
In short, to upset Cornell, Yale and Brown (ranked No. 55, No. 57 and No. 58 respectively to Penn’s No. 61), Penn will have to put it all together like we haven’t seen it do in years.
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