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Tuesday March 28th

'Real steady': Veterans and new faces dominate for UNC gymnastics vs. William & Mary

<p>Sophomore Khazia Hislop competes in the beam event against Towson University on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 in Carmichael Arena.</p>
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Sophomore Khazia Hislop competes in the beam event against Towson University on Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019 in Carmichael Arena.

A young girl dressed in a multicolor unicorn onesie stood in the front row of Carmichael Arena near the vault with a large smile on her face. 

Each time a gymnast launched themselves into the air off of the apparatus, the girl opened her mouth ever so slightly, and her eyes doubled in size. She watched in awe as one athlete after another did their routines. 

With a meet like Sunday afternoon’s, it was hard for the fans to not be in awe like the little unicorn. 

The North Carolina gymnastics team dominated against William & Mary, closing the annual Mental Health Awareness meet with a 194.775-190.425 victory. This was the Tar Heels' highest season opener score in more than a decade, and they finished the meet by sweeping the first-place finishes and picking up nine top-3 finishes in individual events.

“It was very enjoyable to watch them compete,” UNC gymnastics head coach Derek Galvin said. “When you put in the hard work, you got to have fun. They performed at a very high level in terms of execution, and that was great to see. But they were also having fun.”

Between them, senior Khazia Hislop and first-year Elizabeth Culton took home all five first-place individual performances. The veteran tied her career high and won on the vault (9.900). She also took first-place in beam (9.825) and floor (9.850). Meanwhile, Culton earned first-place on bars (9.850) and the all-around events (39.050) in her collegiate debut.

“In all my time being here," Hislop said, "This is definitely the strongest start we’ve ever had at the beginning of the season. Not that we weren’t expecting it, but we were trying to be realistic coming into the meet, and I think we all were kind of shocked at what we’re actually capable of and what scores we really can get."

“It was really encouraging. It’s exciting; starting off this well.”

UNC consistently scored higher on all events, outscoring the Tribe on floor 48.875-46.325. Floor is typically the Tar Heels’ best and favorite event, and with all new routines, the team did not disappoint the fans. 

Of the five UNC gymnasts that competed in the event, the team's lowest individual floor score was junior Lily Dean’s 9.700, while William & Mary’s was an 8.750. For Hislop, floor was special on Sunday afternoon. This year’s routine is her favorite from her time at UNC, and as an added bonus, she got to pick all of her music. Her favorite parts of the routine are the beginning and end, which feature some of her favorite Beyoncé songs. 

“I had a phase this summer where all I watched was Beyoncé’s 'Homecoming', so I was like, 'I need this,'” Hislop said. “That’s my favorite part. The rest of it, I’ve always known that music. I’ve wanted it since high school gymnastics, but I forgot the name of it so I couldn’t find it. This year, I finally remembered it.”

While this is the beginning of the end for Hislop and the rest of the seniors that will soon leave UNC, a new era began on Sunday with Culton at the forefront. It's been a couple of years since the Tar Heels had a consistent all-around gymnast like the first-year. 

“She truly is one of the hardest working gymnasts that I’ve worked with,” Galvin said. “Her highs, they’re high. But the difference between her highs and lows, there’s not a whole lot of gap. She’s just real consistent, real steady.”

Culton made each routine her own that afternoon, however, it’s hard not to compare her to Morgan Lane, another consistent all-around gymnast who graduated in 2018. Galvin said after the meet that several people had already commented on the similarities between the two. 

“Her lines are clean, her form is good, her toes are pointed,” Galvin said. “Those were qualities that Morgan Lane had. And then temperament. Morgan was also a very even person, a very bright person.” 

For Culton, who lives 15 minutes down the road and remembers seeing Lane compete, the comparison is an honor. Although several years older, Culton would mirror the young girl in the unicorn onesie, never blinking, watching each step, flip, and routine.

“The past few years, I’d come to the meets, and she was someone I always looked up to,” Culton said. “For someone to compare me to her, it feels really great.”

@mwc13_3

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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