As a popular saying goes, one’s an incident, two’s a coincidence, and three’s a pattern. Penn gymnastics coach Kirsten Becker is moving into only her third year as head coach, yet is one season away from locking in a tradition of winning.
Before coaching, Becker was a decorated gymnast for Penn during her time as a student. As a two-time team captain, she won the 2013 ECAC Gymnast of the Year and helped the team win two ECAC Championships and two Ivy Classic titles. She then returned to Penn as an assistant coach, where she helped the Quakers achieve a 2020 Ivy Classic title.
Becker was appointed head coach in May 2020 after five years as an assistant coach. Despite only three years heading the gymnastics program — one of which didn't feature any competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic — Becker has led the team to two consecutive Gymnastics East Conference regular season and Championship titles.
In addition to winning the regular season and Championship titles, Penn broke program scoring records three times during the 2021-22 season. And last year, the Quakers broke more records, leading Becker to win GEC Coach of the Year and assistant coaches Casey Rohrbaugh and Cassie Hageman to win GEC Assistant Coaches of the Year.
For coach Becker it was a smooth and easy transition from assistant coach to head coach. “I think it was knowing the team already … but them understanding my role would change, that came with more time," Becker said. "If anything my relationship with the girls stayed the same."
This season, the team welcomes a brand new class of five freshmen who will take the team to a new level. Ranked as the 22nd best recruiting class nationally, Penn is bringing talent in all events, but especially in floor and bars.
Three-time nationals qualifier Madison Perkins is one of those freshmen, and is looking forward to starting competition with a mix of nerves and excitement, especially given the difference between club gymnastics — which prioritizes individual metrics — and the more team-oriented structures of college gymnastics.
“I feel like the coaches and the team all together really are doing a good job preparing us and … if they’re confident in me, I can be confident in myself,” Perkins said. “Everyone’s there for you, no matter what. We’re all just so close."
Despite the absence of last years’ graduating class, many on the team have positive attitudes about the upcoming season and are focusing their attention on the future. Sophomore Skyelar Kerico admits that it was hard to see the seniors leave, but the team does a great job of adjusting to a new group every year and embracing the new environment.
Kerico had a great freshman season last year, regularly competing in three of the four events with high scores, ultimately being named the team's Rookie of the Year. No matter her success, Kerico is always looking to improve upon past performances.
“I’ve been trying to work different skills on bars and beam," Kerico said. "I think my biggest thing was staying healthy [last year] so putting more emphasis on doing treatment … will help me to go the distance.”
Junior Emma Davies also only has eyes for the future; she’s keeping her eye on the prize of the Ivy Classic, which will be hosted at the Palestra this year. She also is very optimistic about how some of the team's younger talent can replace departed gymnasts.
"All of the freshmen are amazing," she said. "Our whole team looks really good. I think it’s going to be a very exciting season for us [and] I can’t wait to see how we perform.”
Davies won the 2019 Georgia State Championship in high school and brought the same fire during her freshman season, scoring a career high of 9.900 on floor exercise. The following season she was a regular starter, competing in floor, vault, and bar. She then scored another 9.900 on floor at the 2023 GEC Championship, the highest score on the rotation by a Penn gymnast in 2023.
Similar to her gymnasts, Becker is keeping her eyes forward this season, especially as she prepares to produce a depth chart ahead of competition. This years’ seniors include Kiersten Belkoff, Rose DeBarberie, Connie Hsu, Anna Kenefick, Sara Kenefick, Kristen Kuhn, and Campbell Marr, and they are looking to triumph this year, cementing their reputation as a consistently winning team.
“I think it’s a strong group and our seniors have a lot of experience," she said. "A lot of them have been competing for over two years now and have found their niche. They’re comfortable.”