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Penn gymnastics traveled to Yale for the Gymnastics East Championship on Mar. 23.

Credit: Giuliana DiBenedetto

The Gymnastics East Conference has a dynasty on its hands.

On Saturday, Penn gymnastics dominated on its way to a GEC championship, culminating in a score of 196.275 — the second-highest score in program history. It was the Quakers' third consecutive win at the title meet, and gave Penn the elusive “treble”: a clean sweep of the GEC regular season, Ivy Classic, and GEC Championship titles this season.

Assistant coach Cassie Hageman attributes the team’s goal tonight to its winning mindset.

“We just took it one by one. The biggest goal we had was doing it for each other … having everyone's back from start to finish,” Hageman said.

Penn began the meet on floor, where the team established early dominance with a 49.2 and only 9.8 or higher counting scores. The Quakers were led by sophomore Skyelar Kerico’s 9.875, which was her second-highest score of the season. Junior Emma Davies and senior Sara Kenefick demonstrated their experience with their 1-2 punch to close out the rotation with two 9.825+ scores. Yale’s vault rotation was highlighted by GEC Newcomer of the Year Ella Tajishan’s clean Yurchenko full. West Chester’s clean balance beam lineup put it in second at the end of the rotation.

For the second rotation, the Quakers moved to vault, where first year Jordan Barrow excelled on her Yurchenko full for a 9.825, making it the second-best score of the evening. Sophomore Marissa Lassiter’s experience shined in an impressive save after her hand seemingly missed the vault table, and the team’s consistency overall led to a 48.775 on the event. Sarah Wilson’s 9.9 for the Bulldogs was enough to put them back in the race for second place at the halfway point.

The Quakers were able to count only scores of 9.8+ for the second time on the uneven bars in the third rotation. Freshman Sophia Paris stuck her dismount and earned second place in the event with a career-high-tying 9.875. Sophomore Carly Oniki set her season high on the event with a 9.8. Sophomore Skye Kerico’s technique was textbook as always, earning her a 9.85 in the anchor spot and earning the Quakers a season-high 49.175 on the event. Heading into the final rotation, Brown and Yale were tied in second place after a stellar floor rotation for the Bears led by Julia Bedell.

Penn’s final event of the season was the balance beam, where senior Kiersten Belkoff’s rock-solid leadoff routine and 9.775 set up for a stellar event for the Quakers, notching a 49.125, the second-highest score of the season. Belkoff affirmed her confidence on beam, saying “knowing the team and the coaches put you up because they believe in you” helps her mentally prepare before she performs. 

There were three sophomores in the team’s beam lineup, starting with Alisha Werlen, who earned her new season-high score of 9.8. Fellow sophomore Samantha Wu defended her Ivy Classic title with a strong 9.875 in the anchor spot and earned a share of second place overall on beam. However, the event winner was Skye Kerico, whose 9.9 in the No. 5 spot was highlighted by her impeccable form in the air. Another highlight of the final rotation was the Bulldogs' performance on floor, whose season-high 49.275 was enough to secure their second-place position in the final standings.

However, nothing could touch the Red and Blue's beginning-to-end confidence. Its 196.275 is the second-best in program history, only to the team's incredible performance at the GEC Championships in 2022. Penn won vault, bars, beam, and placed third overall on floor, and the evening’s performances on uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise are also now in the top ten scores in program history.

Kerico was named GEC Gymnast of the Year 2024 after the meet. She now holds four of the top five all-around scores in Penn history after scoring a 39.3 and securing wins in both the all-around and balance beam, the first-ever two-time GEC Individual Champion. Senior Sara Kenefick finished fourth in the all-around with a 39.2, her personal best.

Hageman knows how special this win was, especially for the seniors. 

“The very last beam routine, we knew that we secured it," Hageman said. "Samantha Wu is a beam star, and when we knew we secured it,  [we were] looking at the seniors, and there wasn’t a dry eye. This senior class has been through it all."

But for the seniors themselves, it is the moments in between the domination that mean the most.

“My experience is made from the daily practices,” Kenefick said. “And traveling to the meets … the smaller moments.”

What comes next for one of the strongest teams in Penn gymnastics history? Though the team must await the NCAA Championships selection later this week, Belkoff knows that the end goal was never the most important thing. 

“It’s really the people that make the experience,” she said. “I’ve been so honored to be on a team with the most amazing girls who have your back through and through.”