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Tuesday March 28th

PREVIEW: Higher scores on the horizon for UNC gymnastics with deepened roster in 2019

<p>North Carolina sophomore Khazia Hislop competes against N.C. State on Jan. 12 at Carmichael Arena.</p>
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North Carolina sophomore Khazia Hislop competes against N.C. State on Jan. 12 at Carmichael Arena.

After a rollercoaster 2018 season, the North Carolina gymnastics team used the off-season to add more depth to its roster. As UNC kicks off the 2019 season this Sunday at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, it’s aiming for higher scores and to strengthen performances in order to improve its team standings.

Recap of last season

The Tar Heels finished 8-9 overall and 2-3 in EAGL play. The team fed off the fans' energy in Carmichael Arena throughout the season, going 3-1 at home compared to 1-5 away and 4-3 in neutral territory. As for national rankings, UNC finished sixth in floor, consistently placing in the top 10 in each meet, and tied 15th in vault.

The most notable win of the season was against Pittsburgh, when UNC scored a collective season-high score of 196.600 — the sixth-highest overall score in North Carolina gymnastics history. On an individual level, seven career-highs were matched while five new personal records were set across all four events.

The team hoped the momentum from the meet would carry over to the EAGL Championship, which was a week later. However, the team faltered in Towson, Maryland.

Going into EAGL, UNC was ranked fifth out of six teams in the conference. Bars (48.250) and beam (47.775) proved to be the hardest part for the team, forcing it to have a rocky start in the competition. Floor, UNC’s best event, revived the team. The Tar Heels tied their season high with a score of 49.475. The team finished the competition with vault, earning its second-best score of the season at 49.250.

The low marks on beam ultimately sealed UNC’s fate in 2018 as a team. However, five individuals continued to compete. In April, then-seniors Morgan Lane, Kaitlynn Hedelund, and Madison Nettles and then-sophomores Khazia Hislop and Mikayla Robinson traveled to Raleigh for the NCAA Southeast Regional. Only Lane, who finished with an all-around score of 39.325, survived to compete another day for the 2018 season. For the first time since 2012, a UNC gymnast — Lane — qualified for the NCAA Championships.

Lane closed her collegiate career with a 15th-place finish and an all-around score of 39.2750. Her final score set the new UNC single-season points record — fitting for the notorious fan favorite.

Who to watch this season

As seniors graduate, they leave big shoes to fill in terms of leadership. According to head coach Derek Galvin, one upcoming senior in particular has risen to the challenge.

“Madison Hargrave looks even stronger this year and really is a leader within the team,” Galvin said. “She’s one of those individuals that, every day she comes into practice, she comes in with a positive attitude and a smile on her face. Her enthusiasm is great to see, and it’s having a positive impact on the team.”

All eyes this season will also fall on the powerhouse junior class. With eight players, the class dominates a majority of the roster, featuring star competitors like Hislop.

Hislop has been a standout since the moment she stepped on campus in 2016. During her first season, she competed in the beam and floor events every meet. Hislop was named EAGL Rookie of the Week five times and EAGL Freshman of the Year. She received first-team all-EAGL honors on floor and second-team all-EAGL honors for balance beam.

As a sophomore, she scored above a 9.8 on vault in every meet, and averaged a score of 9.861 through 11 competitions, including the EAGL Championships. Hislop placed first on vault in eight of the 11 meets and her personal best for floor is 9.950. She received first-team all-EAGL honors on vault, beam and floor exercise as well as a second-team All-America nod on floor, the first Tar Heel to be named All-America on floor exercise since 2006.

What to expect

UNC has faced an uphill battle over the last few years with injuries and inconsistency during events. Its focus during the off-season was to perfect bars and beam, two events that have been the team's Achilles' heel for several years.

North Carolina will only host four meets and travel to the other six. After the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, the Tar Heels host Ball State and defending national runner-up Oklahoma during the annual Women’s Equality and Pink meet. UNC will host N.C. State the following weekend during its Diversity and Inclusion meet. The Wolfpack finished 20th in the final 2018 rankings, and have consistently been a powerful EAGL opponent.

With several high-caliber teams lined up on their schedule, the Tar Heels hope to continue to break point barriers like last season while having fun. 

If the team can master strong consistency across the entire squad, UNC has the potential to send more individuals to the NCAA Regionals and Championship while having a stronger overall performance in the EAGL Championship.


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