It seems the freshmen gymnasts have quickly found a comfortable fit here at Penn.
The eight athletes — one-third of the entire team — already experienced their first two meets as college competitors, and much is expected of them in the years ahead. Six of the freshmen were national Junior Olympic National qualifiers, and all boast impressive regional records.
But like most Quakers, the transition from high school to college was tenuous, especially for athletes with such ambition. Moving from club to team gymnastics forced the women to reassess and change both their physical health and mental approach to the competitions.
“I think it’s a really big difference, especially for gymnastics, from club to college, because it’s a really different atmosphere and environment in the gym,” Sarah Penuela-Wermers said.
“[I]t has been more focused on team and your effort toward the team and how you can help, while in club it is more individualized and focusing more on your own scores,” Ariyana Agarwala added.
“I think it’s more focused on keeping you healthy and trying to make sure you’re at your best all of the time, especially during the season," McCaleigh Marr said. "And so [we] tend to take so much better [care] of our bodies now than in club because you usually tried to push through [back then].”
The women are in high spirits and look forward to the work ahead, especially with the support of their upperclassmen teammates and the greater Penn community.
“Being [at Penn] over winter season, the two-week period that we are here in January, really made us feel not like freshmen anymore,” Rebekah Lashley said. “In my experience, I felt like I was just part of the team. No one was upperclassmen and no one was freshmen, we were all just on the same level.”
“Just being here, I think that we’ve all been opened up to how many people outside of our team want us to succeed just as much as we do, so it’s been super nice to have so many different people all buying into one team and working to get the best results,” Carly Kulevich said.
And the effect of this encouragement was clearly visible during the Quakers’ first ever competitive meet last week at the Palestra. Lashley was able to secure a fifth-place finish in the beam event, and scored a 9.775 on the floor. While the team suffered a loss to Towson, the freshmen by no means see it as a defeat. If anything, their first foray into the world of collegiate gymnastics only reaffirmed the women’s passion.
“I remember last weekend at the first meet I did my first vault in college and I ran down there and was thinking ‘This is so much more fun than club,’” Lashley said. “I’m actually happy competing rather than nervous. It instills a sort of confidence I never had in club.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like it before, it was honestly amazing just finishing your routine and doing your college salute for the first time and then have everyone run up to you and give you high fives. The adrenaline and excitement make all of it worth it,” Marr said.
The Red and Blue also competed against Cornell, Kent State, and George Washington in the Lindsey Ferris Invitational this past weekend, where they placed third overall. There, Lashley placed sixth with a score of 9.750 on the floor.
Armed with their support system and mountains of enthusiasm for the sport, the freshman gymnasts are eager to fulfill some hefty goals over the next three years.
“As a team we’re very talented and there’s a lot that everyone has to offer,” said Ali Karpousis. “I think that we have a very good chance of winning Ivies and maybe ECACs.”
The Quakers' next meet will be this Sunday at the Palestra. Facing Rutgers, they will hope to pull off their first win of the season.