That is Penn gymnastics coach Kirsten Becker’s goal for this season. With dreams of qualifying for regionals and early-season scores to back it up, Becker says her approach to the season was to be aggressive from the start, highlighting the undeniable talent of this team.
“We wanted to have an open space to make mistakes and figure out your competition mindset early,” she said. “Go for your best and we’ll figure it out.”
And figure it out they have: Penn is the only team in the Gymnastics East Conference to score over a 194 so far this season, with two consecutive meets of 195+, which both rank top 10 in program history. Penn has already beaten three teams that have previously qualified for regionals in Temple, George Washington, and West Virginia. In week two, the Red and Blue's 195.375 was the 36th-best score in the country — the exact cutoff needed for a spot in the regionals last year.
Last week, the decisive victory over West Virginia — the first win over WVU in the team’s history and its first-ever win over any Big 12 team — confirmed to the world that Penn is coming. For The Daily Pennsylvanian Player of the Week and the meet’s winner on bars and beam, sophomore Skye Kerico, it was just the beginning.
“I think we did well and have room for improvement,” said Kerico. She said the team was focused on “[k]eeping the energy, keeping those scores up, not counting misses, and gaining confidence.”
Kerico began the 2023 season in the all-around, but had to step back after a midseason ankle injury. Last week, she competed in three events and is currently training floor. She hopes to be back in the all-around soon, but says her goal for the rest of the season is to stay healthy. “[I want to] compete all-around and continue to do this for two more years."
Becker said she is feeling good about where the team is heading. This season, the team is competing at a higher level than ever before, with two double weekends to maximize its National Qualifying Score. The National Qualifying Score, or NQS, is calculated by using the top six scores from a team, at least three of which must be away meets, dropping the top score and averaging the remaining five. The teams with the top 36 NQS make regionals.
"We're shooting for top 36," Becker said. "No Penn team has done that and we’re capable of it! The last two wins have made that goal a little more realistic to them, beating 3 teams that have gone to regionals. Just because the program has never gone before doesn’t mean this team can’t do it. "
Last season, the Quakers were champions of the GEC for the second straight season but fell short of the regional cutoff.
What is the secret that makes this team so special? Coach Becker thinks that the relationship between the athletes and coaches is different. “I feel like this team is the first team that has only had Casey [Zacot], Cassie [Hageman], and I,” she said, “[so there’s] less transition. They know what to expect out of us and we know what to expect from them … and recruiting builds relationships before [they] even get here.” Skye says she enjoys the “youthful energy” the freshmen bring.
After graduating just five seniors, Penn's exceptional young talent was poised to take the next step toward elevating the program to new heights. Up until now, that has come to fruition, but there is still more work to be done.
“I want our team to be undeniable,” said Coach Becker. “There can be a perception of Ivy gymnastics having lower scores, but I don’t want our team to have any excuses … and the gymnasts are realizing the goal [of reaching regionals] is achievable.”
As for the rest of the season, Coach Becker is looking forward to hosting the Ivy Championships on Feb. 24. Despite dominating the Gymnastics East Conference, Penn hasn’t won the Ivy Championships since 2020.
Is this the year that changes? Coach Becker certainly thinks so. In the meantime, the team is “focusing on the details” ahead of Sunday’s meet at Yale.
“Last week was one step … we all left the meet thinking we all have more to give. We have a 196 in our future and hopefully multiple of those!”
Coach Becker is right: Even at such an early point in the season, Penn is undeniable.