The North Carolina gymnastics team took to the floor at Carmichael Arena on Friday night with plenty of confidence.
With a near full crowd in the arena, the Tar Heels hoped to lock in early and open the season with an upset victory over rival No. 21 N.C. State.
After a mix of inexperience, injuries and struggles on the bars, the Tar Heels' (0-1) season ended differently than expected in 2017. The team still remembered a rough end to the previous season in the Gainesville Regional meet, where it finished fifth with a score of 194.425. But with an experienced group coming back, UNC had an opporunity to bounce back in 2018.
The UNC roster featured 11 first-year students last season. But, on Friday, the team returned with a more experienced group, which sophomore Khazia Hislop said made a big difference against the Wolfpack.
“It really puts us one step ahead," she said. "Compared to last year, the score we got for our first meet is so much better, and that is definitely from the experience we got last year."
“Instead of taking the first few weeks of the season to get ourselves to a point where we need to be, we were already a lot closer,” Hislop added.
North Carolina competed through the first two rotations, finishing the vault with a score of 48.800. A stronger group on bars finished with a score of 48.550, closely trailing the Wolfpack. UNC's chemistry was evident as teammate celebrated each other's performances throughout the meet. The team was losing narrowly, 97.425 to 97.350, headed into the last two events.
During the floor routines, the Tar Heels had a nearly flawless score of 49.250. A few mistakes, however, on the balance beam caused the Tar Heels to score a 47.775 in the event, their lowest score of the meet. Those mistakes ultimately cost North Carolina the meet, as the Wolfpack left with a 194.650-194.375 victory. UNC head coach Derek Galvin thought the team's balance beam struggles left over a point on the table.
“We are not happy about losing," Galvin said. "N.C. State is a team that every time we face them we want to win, and I know they feel the same way. We had this, and we let it slip out of our fingers."
Despite the opening loss, the team still performed at a high level. Though they came up short in the final score, the Tar Heels represented well in the individual awards on the podium. Hislop, in only her second season with the Tar Heels, set two new personal bests in floor routine and vault, scoring 9.950 and 9.875, respectively.
Galvin was still impressed by the team’s performance, most specifically Hislop, who he believes had one of the better meets he has seen in a while. The loss set a high level that Galvin hopes his team will perform at the rest of the season.
“I am very excited about the season," Galvin said. "We are going to some great away meets and we are going to face some good competition here."
“This team is going to be even better than they were tonight.”