On the biggest stage of the year, Penn gymnastics showed out with a title on the line.
Unfortunately, so did everyone else.
The No. 58 Red and Blue secured their fourth-highest score of the season at 193.200, but it wasn’t enough to compete with a record-setting group of opponents at the ECAC Championships at the Palestra. No. 52 Yale won the meet with a school-record 195.325, and the Quakers took fourth place in the six-team competition.
Individually, senior Kyra Levi tied for first place in the bars competition, while also winning ECAC Scholar-Athlete of the Year for the second straight season.
“Our goal going into today was really just focusing on doing our best; we can’t control what anyone else does,” said Levi, who averaged a stellar 9.742 points across her three events on Saturday. “We wanted to come in and hit 24 for 24 routines, and we got closer than we have this season, so I think we’re all really proud of that.”
The Quakers' first event happened to be the one that was their strongest all season, the floor, and Saturday was no exception. All six competitors scored at least 9.600 for Penn, and the Red and Blue (6-18, 5-11 ECAC) were anchored by senior Alex Hartke’s 9.850-point effort, good for second place among all six schools.
Hartke was named ECAC Specialist of the Year following the meet’s conclusion.
“It’s both a blessing and a curse [to go on floor first]; I think it’s super high energy, so it’s great to start out there and kind of get the nerves out,” Levi said. “We just kept chasing our floor score on every event.”
But that pursuit came up empty-handed the rest of the way.
The middle of Penn’s lineup struggled on vault, which pushed the Quakers down to fourth place, a hole from which the team couldn’t escape. Though Penn also performed strongly on bars, scoring 48.650 led by Levi’s individual title, there was just too much ground to make up with the teams at the top of the leaderboard.
“There was a lot of fight on this team, and that’s something that you can’t just have, it’s something that you work for each day,” junior captain Caroline Moore, who took third place on beam, said. “Even after the first two events, when we were sitting [in fourth place], we made a goal for ourselves on bars and beam; ‘we’re gonna hit this amount of routines or stick this number of dismounts.’”
Indeed, it was neither Penn’s effort nor execution that caused the team to come up short, but rather those of everyone else competing.
Beyond Yale’s school record, No. 57 Brown also set a season high at 194.025, and No. 56 William and Mary’s 194.575 was its second-best in the last three seasons. For frame of reference, when the Quakers last won the ECAC championship in 2013, their score was 193.725 — a score that would’ve placed in fourth this season.
“The ECAC is not taking 192s and 193s anymore. These girls are nationally competitive coming into college, and there’s no reason that our colleges shouldn’t be nationally competitive,” Levi said. “I’m really excited to see where the ECAC goes in coming years.”
The future of the conference looks bright, but the future of Penn’s program might be especially so after the performance of rookie Darby Nelson on Saturday.
The Quakers’ only athlete to compete in all four events, Nelson had the fourth-highest overall score in the ECAC at 38.775. Scoring at least 9.675 in all four events, the freshman showed off both her physical versatility and mental ability to handle the highest-pressure situation of the year.
“I don’t do it for me, I do it for the team, and I try to put everything I can into how I can help in any way possible,” Nelson said. “So all I did today was focus on how to improve not only myself, but others.”
Penn’s team season is now complete. Next up, the team’s standouts will continue their season, as the Quakers will be sending a to-be-announced list of individuals to the USA Gymnastics Nationals in early April.
“I’m really proud of this team for pushing through, months after months, and putting it all out there in every meet", Moore said. “That’s just the type of girls we were dealing with this year, and it was a pleasure to do it with all of them.”
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