RALEIGH — The UNC gymnastics team members stood behind the black curtain that separated them from the floor, anxiously waiting for the matchup between N.C. State and Pittsburgh to finish.
Pain was evident on the players’ faces. As the Wolfpack finished their floor routine, tears welled up in some of the Tar Heels’ eyes while others dropped their heads.
“We had to stay positive even though we recognized right away that bars weren’t a good situation early on,” head coach Derek Galvin said after the EAGL Championships on Saturday. “We had to really fight since we were in last place (after the first rotation) … It’s not over until the last event of the meet. They kept battling.”
This wasn’t the fairytale ending the team had hoped for. The Tar Heels seemed to become unglued on one event — uneven bars. The team score of 47.475 was the lowest of the season and a dagger in the heart of the team.
“I’m disappointed in how we performed as a team on bars,” Galvin said. “Warmups went really well. The practice round yesterday, everybody looked good on bars. When we warmed up today, everything looked good … The wheels just fell (off).”
After posting high scores all season, the team was expected to continue to break records, set new goals, post career-bests and bring home accolades to commemorate their hard work.
They did bring home a few EAGL awards. Amy Smith won Assistant Coach of the Year, first-year Khazia Hislop was named Freshman of the Year, and junior Morgan Lane, unsurprisingly, was awarded Gymnast of the Year. But their performance on Saturday didn’t match an incredible regular season.
“There were some routines that maybe weren’t the best,” Lane said. “But we didn’t give up, especially after bars. We had a couple falls, but that’s okay. You have to leave that behind.”
Maybe the problem was the loud atmosphere, which was deafening at times. Maybe it was the pressure from the fans as the team was reaching new highs. Maybe it was just the nerves, which were particularly apparent among the team's 11 first-years.
While the other five competitors were walking through their routines and practicing their flips, Lane was off in her own little world, jumping like a rabbit alongside the mat before each event.
“I like to keep moving,” Lane said. “I don’t really like to watch people. But other people just sit there and chill the whole time … some people like to sit in the chair right up until they do the routine.”
Nerves were warranted after the team’s performance over the course of the last three weeks. Uneven bars had been a problem for the young UNC team, with each overall score falling lower and lower. Typically, the scores are a little over 49.000; Saturday's score was 47.475.
Despite the falls during the uneven bars routine, the team continued to rally together. Senior Christina Pheil walked up and down the side of the mat during this event, hoping to help in any way she could. Although she couldn’t compete due to a foot injury, her presence had a calming effect on the team. The gymnasts flocked to Pheil, seeking her encouragement amid the failing scores.
The team battled their way to third place, but N.C. State’s 49.150 floor performance sealed UNC’s fate for fourth place. Despite the sour meet, the team quickly looked for a silver lining as they waited to hear if they qualified for NCAA regionals, ultimately securing the No. 35 spot.
“We are fighters,” Lane said. “And we’re not giving up. We’re still in this.”
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