For the North Carolina gymnastics team, Sunday’s meet against N.C. State was a warm homecoming.
After opening the season on the road for more than 10 years, the Tar Heels started the season off strong before an excited Carmichael Arena, edging the Wolfpack 194.075-193.950.
The Tar Heels, who were projected to finish third in the Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League preseason coaches’ poll, went into the meet hoping to prove themselves. And coming off of a fifth-place finish in last season’s conference championship meet, UNC wanted to establish themselves as contenders early.
“It’s actually the highest first meet score we’ve ever gotten, so it’s the way we wanted to start off,” coach Derek Galvin said. “We were hoping to make a statement in the first meet so that when we go to the subsequent meets, the judges give us the benefit of the doubt. So now the word is out, this team has got some talent, we’ve got some skill and the execution will continue to improve as the season goes on.”
After building an early lead in vault and uneven bars, North Carolina had to come from behind in vault and floor exercise to beat its in-state rivals. Galvin attributed his team’s late struggles to a loss of focus after getting off to a good start in the meet.
Leading the comeback was junior Haley Watts, who led UNC in scoring on Sunday with second place finishes in balance beam and all-around . In five meets last year, Watts finished with all-around scores of more than 39.000, continuing that trend Sunday in spite of competing with a bad ankle. She ended the day with 39.200 points.
“I think I need to just focus on the details more, like tighter landings and stuff like that, and hopefully I can progress from there,” Watts said.
In addition to Watts, North Carolina benefited from several key contributors returning from injury, especially Acacia Cosentino. The redshirt junior, who tore her Achilles tendon before last season even began, competed Sunday for the first time in roughly two years.
Her performance ended up being the deciding factor for the Tar Heels. Cosentino earned a score of 9.850 on the uneven bars, a personal record.
The Tar Heels travel to N.C. State on Friday to compete against the Wolfpack again as well as Michigan, a national powerhouse. Watts knows the meet will be a challenge, but she believes the team can build upon Sunday’s win and continue to improve.
“I want to say that this team can go all the way to nationals, because we’ve never started off this great,” Watts said. “We’re just in a whole new territory for us, so it’s amazing to see.”
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