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Senior Ally Podsednik had a strong performance for Penn gymnastics at Yale, winning the vault at 9.750, and will need to excel again in the Quakers' home opener on Friday.

Credit: Alex Fisher

There’s nothing better than coming home after a win.

Following last weekend’s narrow victory over Yale in New Haven, Penn gymnastics returns to Rockwell Gym to host Southeast Missouri State in the team's home opener on Friday night. The Quakers started off the season with some struggles at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, and are looking to find their stride going into February and the all-important Ivy Classic.

Penn (1-3, 1-1 Ivy) will look for strong performances from all team members, but will be reliant as always on captains Kyra Levi and Caroline Moore, not to mention freshmen Darby Nelson, Darcy Matsuda, and others on its especially deep squad.

The beam was a source of strength for the No. 61 Quakers against Yale, where the team scored 48.575, allowing the Red and Blue to capture the come-from-behind win by less than half a point. 

Three of their event scores - vault, beam, and floor - got better at Yale from the team’s season-opening meet, and they will look to carry this strong momentum into this Friday’s meet.

“Coming back from this win, I think it’s very important for us to keep the positivity,” said Matsuda, who scored a team-high 9.775 on beam. “That was a big change we had from the week before, and I think that really helped us come together as a team and help lift each other up during every single event and practice.”

The positivity will continue this Friday, since for the first time the team will be able to perform in front of its home supporters. For Matsuda, this will be the first time since coming to Penn that she will have a home crowd cheering her on, and she cannot wait.

“It’s a bit more motivation to show everyone what we’ve been training the whole year for”, she said. “It’s so much more fun competing when people are watching and cheering because gymnastics is a spectator sport, so we do it to entertain the crowd and we do it for ourselves.”

The Quakers will have their work cut out for them, though, as Southeast Missouri (1-4, 1-1 Midwest Independent Conference) has three gymnasts who have also scored regularly above 9.700 on beams this season. In fact, the No. 58 Redhawks' overall record is deceptive, as SE Missouri State has fallen to a pair of elite teams in No. 6 Kentucky and No. 29 George Washington.

Like Penn, Southeast Missouri also has a talented freshman class on their roster, most notably Lindsey Bates, who was named MIC Newcomer of the Week earlier this month. Bates won the all-around title in both of the Redhawks’ previous two meets, one of which featured a season-best score of 38.950 out of a possible 40 points.

Rather than focus on what they cannot control from their opponents, though, the Quakers have a mentality of constant improvement.

“We made a lot of good changes last weekend, and that’s what we’re focused on this week,” said senior captain Kyra Levi. “So now we’re just fine-tuning things and getting those single tenths back that really add up a lot if everybody does their part.”

Levi is a great example of the team’s coolness under pressure that was key to its win at Yale. After a teammate got injured, she was put on beam, an event in which she normally does not compete. In such a close match, many gymnasts would have cracked under the pressure, but Levi scored third-highest on the team at 9.725 to help push Penn ahead.

The example of Levi is what the team strives for: pulling through when the team needs help. But this Friday, positivity will be critical if the Quakers want to win in front of their fans.

“Our mindset is remembering what we did right at Yale, staying positive, and just having fun in general, since we want to enjoy every second that we get.”

Friday's meet will be yet another step on the team’s long road back to an Ivy championship. After winning in 2015, Penn has not been able to come out atop the Ivy Classic. Last season, the Quakers just barely fell short, losing to Cornell by less than one point. This season, Penn again fell to Cornell by a hair at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, and the Red and Blue are excited for another shot at their rivals in late February.

In the meantime, though, the meet against Southeast Missouri will be another chance for Penn to refine its routines and hone in on the greatness that it believe it can achieve. This team is hungry for another title, and has the talent to go back to the Ivy Classic and win.

But the road to the top is only travelled one meet at a time — so for now, all eyes are on Friday.