For Penn gymnastics, there’s a lot at stake this weekend.
That’s because all of its hard work this season will culminate in the ECAC Championships, which will be hosted at the Palestra on Saturday. At ECACs, the Quakers will have the chance to take on rivals Brown, Cornell, Temple, William and Mary, and Yale. Although they’ve had meets against these teams during the regular season, the stakes are now much, much higher.
Although Penn will be treating it just like every other meet, there is no question that ECACs is different. Penn won back-to-back titles at this event in 2012 and 2013, but since then has been unable to reclaim that position, despite feeling like it has the talent and drive to make it happen.
“Speaking as a senior, I think for the six of us it’s really important that we get to have our last ECACs at home. This is our last major meet,” captain Kyra Levi said. “It’s our last big shot as a group to kind of put together and show each other … I really want the whole team to see what we’ve accomplished this year and I’m really excited for that to happen this weekend, especially at home.”
Despite putting up big numbers, Penn has struggled to find team wins in recent weeks. Members of the team have regularly been able to put up numbers around 9.7 and 9.8 in many events, but it hasn’t been quite enough to beat their last few opponents, including William and Mary and Yale, both of whom will be participating in ECACs this weekend.
Specifically, the Quakers have shone on floor. Putting up record numbers on the floor has not always saved Penn in the past, but it is where the team is likely to find the extra push it needs if this championship comes down to the wire. In the Ivy Classic, the Quakers put up a stunning 49.150, led by a 9.875 from senior Alex Hartke in that exercise.
“Throughout the season, it gets a bit easier endurance-wise because we get in a bit more shape to be able to do these routines, so usually by the end of season you’re able to have a little more fun on the floor,” Levi said. “We’re super excited to have as much energy as possible, especially because it’s at home.”
This is Penn's final meet involving the entire team this season, though certain individuals will likely qualify for the USA Gymnastics Nationals. Although Penn is a young team, with freshmen like Darcy Matsuda and Darby Nelson who have contributed all season, it is also the end of the road for a class of seniors who have contributed to both an incredible culture and a high level of talent.
“It’s been really incredible to see the freshmen grow this year. They’ve all demonstrated their hard work each meet, but I would say their confidence has skyrocketed from the beginning of the season,” Levi said. “We’ve put in a ton of work — this has been one of the most successful years I’ve been here, and I really wanna leave on a note that gets people excited for next season."
This meet will also serve as a chance for the Quakers to avenge a disappointing third-place finish at the Ivy Classic earlier this month. Both Cornell and Yale bested Penn in that matchup, and have both beaten the Red and Blue in other meets only weeks separated from the Ivy Classic. This fact might appear to make the ECAC championship a foregone conclusion and a dismal end to the season for the Quakers.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. The Quakers did lose to Cornell and Yale, but they also beat them when they met for dual meets early in the season. Additionally, Penn put up its best score of the season in the Ivy Classic at 193.875, and it was only an pair of equally incredible and record-breaking feats by their Ivy rivals that put them in third.
All three teams are peaking heading into ECACs, and although Penn might have earned an underdog status, it’d be foolish to count the Quakers out.