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Junior captain Caroline Moore struggled on the vault, normally her strongest event, at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational.

Credit: Zach Sheldon

The silver lining is that there’s nowhere to go but up.

A year after opening the 2017 season with an impressive second-place finish at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, Penn gymnastics struggled to match that effort this time around, finishing in last place out of four teams with a score of 190.375. 

“Going into the meet, we had very high hopes and we had dreamed so long … I’d say an area to improve upon would be just the little details,” junior and second-year captain Caroline Moore said. “We all know we’re much more capable of doing better things in the next couple of meets, but it was definitely a good starting point because everyone knows that we can only improve from here.”

Most of the Quakers’ issues could easily be attributed to the vault event, where Penn struggled to a final mark of 46.125, the team’s lowest score in the event in five years.

Three of the team’s six competitors finished with scores in the 8s, and Moore, the defending Ivy League and ECAC individual champion in vault, only scored 9.250. 

Even though the only two freshmen to compete in the event for the Quakers both excelled, with Darby Nelson scoring 9.525 and Jordyn Mannino at 9.550, the Red and Blue’s hole was too great. In the vault alone, Penn was at least 1.975 points worse than every other team. Had the Quakers even matched the next-worst vault score, Cornell’s 48.100, Penn would’ve finished in second place in the meet.

“The first meet is always the toughest for vault, because no matter how many vaults you do, nothing can really prepare for you for that first meet because the landing mats are much harder,” Moore said. “So we got all the kinks out, and now we can just focus on doing what we know how to do.”

Aside from the vault, the afternoon actually saw some major positives for Penn. The Quakers earned high marks on floor (scoring 48.600) and beam (48.475). As for individual standouts, Penn saw contributions from all across the age spectrum. 

Senior captain Kyra Levi led Penn with a 9.800 on the bars, finishing in third place in the event, the highest of any non-George Washington athletes. On the flip side, both Nelson and Mannino excelled in the first meets of their collegiate careers. Nelson competed in all four events and finished with an all-around score of 37.750, while Mannino competed in three events and scored a total of 28.875.

“It’s the first meet, you’re nervous, you have mental mistakes that happen, and for a lot of the freshmen it’s their first time competing in a college meet, which can be nerve-wracking,” Moore said. “The main focus going into the weekend was about attitude and about being positive; if anything goes wrong, we always try to pick each other up, and I would say we definitely did a great job of that.” 

Though the last-place finish is frustrating in its own right, finishing behind a certain conference rival gives it a little extra sting. Eleven months after Cornell (1-2, 1-0) eked by Penn by 0.400 points for the 2017 Ivy championship, the Big Red topped the Quakers by an even smaller 0.175-point margin on Sunday.

But fortunately for the Red and Blue, they won’t have to wait long for revenge against another Ivy foe. Next Saturday, Penn heads to Yale (2-1, 0-0) for the Bulldogs’ first Ivy meet of the year — and if the result is anything like last year’s instant classic, Penn can rack up some much-needed momentum.

“The overall team mood and mindset right now is, ‘alright, we got the first one out of the way, so we can only go up here,’” Moore said. “We got all the nerves out, so now we can just chalk it up as a bad day and focus on what we can do next weekend.”