It was almost the comeback of the century.
In last place after the first rotation of the Ivy Classic, Penn gymnastics embarked on a furious rally to catch up to its conference foes, but the Quakers ultimately came up just short of their first league title since 2015, taking second place behind repeat champion Cornell by a mere 0.400-point margin. Despite not bringing home the team trophy, the Red and Blue did secure some jewelry via sophomore Caroline Moore, who individually tied for first place in the vault.
“We’re understandably frustrated with the end result, but the team’s energy was always positive and focused,” Moore said. “We never let the past routines dictate how the rest of the meet would go.”
Things didn’t look good for the Quakers (6-11, 4-3 Ivy) early, as the team struggled on the floor exercise to put itself in a deficit from which it couldn’t overcome. Though floor has been the team’s strongest event all season, the Red and Blue staggered to a 48.025-point effort on Saturday — their second-lowest of the year — to put Penn in last place right from the onset.
“Sometimes, even when you do your best sets, you have no control over the judging. Being first to go on floor doesn’t make it any easier,” said Moore, who scored 9.575 in the event. “Despite the scores, we moved on and focused on the task at hand.”
But instead of faltering under the high-pressure stakes, the Quakers would prove that they know no form of quit, and their sophomore leader would spearhead the charge.
After memorably in Penn’s home comeback win over Yale in January, Moore nearly repeated that effort in New Haven, sparking her team’s rally with her historic 9.825-point showing on the vault. In addition to bringing home the individual championship in the event, Moore’s effort also was the No. 3 score on vault in program history. Overall, the team’s score of 48.075 was its best in the event since its season opener, enabling the Quakers to slowly chip at their gaudy deficit.
“Personally, I have been visualizing, dreaming, and praying for an Ivy League title,” she said. “It truly was the best feeling to stick that vault for my team and show the years of hard work that were put in to perfect it.”
Once Moore got the ball rolling, it was her fellow captain who would take over from there, with junior Kyra Levi leading a personnel on the bars that consisted of herself and five freshmen. After taking fifth place on floor with 9.750 points, Levi continued her strong day with a ninth-place 9.700 on the bars.
With the support of her rookie teammates — four of whom secured scores of at least 9.550 points in their first ever Ivy Classic — No. 57 Penn suddenly found itself in second place entering the last rotation.
“The freshmen were definitely put to the test in their first high-pressure meet, but overall, they handled it well and are ready to continue to get better,” Moore said. “It really just takes being calm and confident while reminding yourself how many times you have practiced your routine.”
Still trailing the defending champion Big Red (10-7, 4-1) by nearly a full point, the Red and Blue were going to need something special to bring home the title, and the Quakers certainly left it all out there on the final rotation.
Moore returned to action and continued her phenomenal day with a 9.800 score on the beam to take second place behind Cornell’s Kaitlin Green. Rachel Graham contributed with her own score of 9.750, good for fourth in the event. When all was said and done, all five scorers hit at least 9.650, and Penn’s team score of 48.600 on beam was the highest across all four schools.
But there was simply too much ground to cover, as the Penn comeback bid fell just short. Buoyed by Green’s wins on the beam and bars, the No. 52 Big Red would up with a team score of 193.325 on the day, just barely ahead of Penn’s 192.925.
Despite the heartbreak of the defeat, the day was full of silver linings for the Red and Blue beyond the obvious thrill of Moore’s title. The second-place finish still was two spots higher than the team’s last-place finish a season ago. More importantly, the meet represented Penn’s second consecutive weekend surpassing 192 points after not having done so in each of its three prior meets, suggesting that the Quakers are getting back into their elite form that was on display in the team’s first two weeks.
Best of all? The Red and Blue don’t have to wait long at all for their revenge — they’ll see all three Ivy opponents again three weeks from now at the ECAC Championships. And if the momentum gained from the team’s finish on Saturday is any indication, the Quakers should be ready to make the most of their second chance.
“The team huddle after the meet made everyone motivated to get back to work and fix up the little mistakes,” Moore said. “I know I can speak for the team when I say that we are ready to redeem ourselves and show everyone that we are the best team in the ECAC.”