It was a successful weekend for Penn gymnastics as twelve members of the squad travelled to Seattle, Washington to compete at USAG Nationals.
With five of these twelve members being freshmen, the underclassmen were well represented at this elite level competition. However, the three finalists from Penn were more experienced gymnasts in Nicole Swirbalus from the sophomore class, Kyra Levi from the junior class and Rachel Graham from the senior class.
“This was really special for me because I didn’t go to Nationals last year, and being able to represent my team in finals was really awesome being that there were so many girls there,” said Swirbalus, who competed in floor, beam and vault.
Rachel Graham felt the experience at USAG Nationals was a rewarding beyond just the competition.
“It was amazing getting to be with our teammates and explore Seattle. It was really special to compete with them one last time,” Graham reflected on her final performance as a Quaker.
While it was a great bonding experience for each gymnast flying cross-country with the team, it was time to work once they stepped foot in the arena. It was time to put their season of training to the test and represent Penn on a big stage.
At a typical meet, college gymnasts all compete as a team although they are scored individually. However, at USAG Nationals, each athlete competes individually and must make the finals on their own individual merit.
Co-captain Kyra Levi valued her experience at USAG Nationals, seeing it as a huge learning experience. But as the ultimate team player, Levi felt something was missing with some members of the team staying behind in Philadelphia.
“We wished the whole team could be there, although twelve is more than we could have hoped for. It is a huge learning experience when you are competing individually rather than with your team,” Levi said. “We proved that we belonged in the arena as a group which will fuel our fire for next year.”
“I really think we laid it all out there and performed well. I personally was all-in and did my absolute best,” Graham added.
The weekend was special for the Quakers with two of the three finalists, Swirbalus and Graham, placing in the finals at fourth on floor and sixth on beam, respectively. For Levi, one of the most memorable parts of the weekend was seeing her teammates rise to the top.
“Watching both Nicole and Rachel place was so memorable, especially with it being Nicole’s first time at Nationals. She is setting the tone for the rest of the team to see what we can do,” Levi said.
This was a special and gratifying moment for Graham as well.
“It was really cool for me because last year I qualified for finals and didn’t place, so this was a nice way to finish my career,” Graham said.
“It meant a lot to me that I was able to achieve fourth place my first time at Nationals. I worked so hard this season and to achieve a USAG All-American status as a sophomore is something I am truly proud of,” Swirbalus beamed.
Having three event finalists this year shows not only the squad’s progress, but also their drive to succeed and get better from year to year. With twelve athletes representing the Red and Blue, it proves the talent that is coming out of the Penn gymnastics program.
“With three event finalists I think it was a step in the right direction, moving from one event finalist last year. Next year hopefully the whole team will be there and our goal is to have everyone be an event finalist,” Levi added optimistically. “We set a precedent and showed that next year we will be one of the leaders in that arena.”
As USAG Nationals come to a close, so does Penn gymnastics’ 2016-2017 season of hard work, dedication, and commitment to being a threat to some of the most competitive teams in the country. It is a testament to their teamwork and their drive to succeed beyond expectation.