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Sophomore Connie Hsu competes on the bars during a meet against Yale at the Palestra on Jan. 30. Credit: Kylie Cooper

The Penn gymnastics team flipped its way to a new program record in its meet against Towson this past weekend. The Quakers not only left the competition with a team record of 195.375, but tied its beam record of 9.950, thanks to the efforts of junior McCaleigh Marr.

The Quakers toppled its previous team record of 195.075, which it scored against Maryland in 2019. This weekend, Penn's score was the highest ever for an Ivy League program, despite the team falling short to the Towson Tigers, who scored 195.950.  

It truly was a team effort, as four Quakers left the arena with huge individual wins as well. Senior Sydney Kraez left with the all-around title for the second meet in a row, scoring 38.925. Marr's 9.950 was the highest score for a Quaker in over 21 years.

Getting these top scores doesn’t come without hard work, and coach Kirsten Becker credits the team's success to its resilience.

“The team has been working so hard and has been so focused throughout this preseason and throughout COVID-19, and I think this was kind of the culmination of that,” coach Becker said. “We’ve had a lot of girls who really haven’t had much exposure to collegiate competitive experience, and despite last year’s season being canceled, they stayed working hard and so focused throughout the last year and a half.” 

On bars, junior Sarah Penuela-Wermers led the way for the Quakers with a 9.9, the highest score of the season and the event's third-best score in program history. Kraez and freshman Isabel Song followed with a 9.8 each, Marr scored a 9.750, and sophomore Sara Kenefick scored 9.675. 

Becker said the style and structure of the team's typical practice schedule has greatly contributed to its success.

“Typically [in preseason], we practice four full days a week for around three hours and then we’ll have one focus day that is typically [for] things we didn’t get to spend as much time on during the week, or some basics for the girls, or rehab exercises,” Becker said. “Now, our schedule changes based on when the meets are.”

On the vault, sophomore Kiersten Belkoff won the event with a 9.875, and Song and Kraez followed close behind with a 9.775 and 9.750, respectively. On floor, Kenefick reaffirmed her DP Sports Player of the Week title, scoring a career-high 9.875. Other Quakers also made their way on to the scoreboard to bring Penn’s floor total to 48.700.

For the newer members on the team, Becker revealed the specific way she has been helping them with their adjustment to collegiate-level competition. 

“We do a lot of things in practice that are group assignments. A lot of it is getting them exposed to what it would feel like to do an individual routine for the team,” Becker said. “We do mock meets in practice, and we just had our inner squad in December to prepare for what a meet feels like. Outside of that, we have exhibitions where you go out there and do your thing without it counting for a score.”

On the beam, Marr's record-tying 9.95 helped the Red and Blue notch the highest score of the season (49.00). Kraez's 9.800, Belkoff's 9.775, and senior Natalie Yang's 9.750 also contributed to the team's score.

Going into the meets, the mindset and focus never change for the Quakers, as they look to better themselves each time they suit up.

“Honestly, we haven’t changed much of our focus throughout the start of [the] season," Becker said. "Our focus has been on consistency and margin of error. If we’re going into a routine, we want to know if we’re going to hit between a 9.65 and 9.9 and if a 9.75 is an average score, we’re going to come out with a successful team score. Landing and sticking dismounts is another thing we’ve been focusing on this season.” 

Next Sunday, Penn will host Gymnastics East Conference competitor Bridgeport at 1:00 p.m. in the Palestra.