Lily Dean stood on the floor platform, showcasing the huge smile that formed on her face as the opening notes of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” echoed throughout Carmichael Arena.
Cheers came from the crowd as the rest of the North Carolina gymnastics team danced along on the sidelines while the junior performed her routine. One after another, some of Queen’s hits played through the speakers. “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Another One Bites the Dust” brought a few fans to their feet while young children danced in their seats.
“I really love Queen,” Dean said. “It keeps it light for me ... I picked those because they have the best beat. And, also, they get me pumped up.”
In that moment, UNC fans and the team seemed to forget what had just transpired a few rotations before. While the Tar Heels pulled off a comeback 193.625-192.450 victory over Pittsburgh, both teams seemed unsteady for the majority of the afternoon.
“The rhythm of the competition was atypical,” head coach Derek Galvin said. “Normally, there aren’t as many pauses. Typically in a meet, the gymnasts get into a rhythm. And, in terms of their mental preparation and physical preparation right before they compete, there’s a certain rhythm to that.”
The Saturday afternoon EAGL meet started off relatively smooth between North Carolina and Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels opened on vault and finished with a team score of 48.675. Senior Khazia Hislop tied a Panther for first with a score of 9.850, while senior Mikayla Robinson scored 9.800 to tie for third, also with another Pittsburgh gymnast.
Although the performances seemed solid based on the scores, it was evident that this would be an unusual meet. Between each routine, long pauses were taken as the judges meticulously went over every performance in great detail, ultimately delaying the final scores. This became even more evident during UNC’s uneven bars routines.
“If I were to compare it to a situation in football, sometimes they try to ice the kicker,” Galvin said. “That happened to us on bars, and it happened to Pittsburgh on beam because of the rhythm of the meet.
“And it’s unfortunate because both teams warmed up much more effectively and impressively than they competed on those two events.”
North Carolina scored a season-low 47.150 on bars, featuring scores that ranged from an 8.825 from senior Grace Donaghy to a 9.725 from senior Mekyllah Williams. Miscues plagued this rotation for the Tar Heels, and it’s not hard to assume that the lagging rhythm was to blame. Icing a gymnast can completely take them out of their zone and disrupt their pattern. Focus is crucial in the sport, and without it, dangerous mishaps can happen.
As Donaghy soared in the air towards the higher uneven bar, her fingertips slipped. The senior went falling to the mat, face first. As gasps echoed in the arena, Donaghy stood up, re-powdered her hands and finished her routine with Galvin right next to the bars for each flip and turn.
Several minutes later, she closed out the beam rotation with a solid 9.700, seeming unfazed by the fall on bars.
“It’s very frustrating on bars when I fall,” Donaghy said. “For me, I just kind of have to remove myself and be like, ‘It’s just bars. I still have another event. The team needs me on this event.’"
This season, the gymnastics team has a hashtag — #G3. It stands for grit, grace and gratitude, attitudes that the team strives to embody on a daily basis.
During the “Together We Win” meet on Saturday afternoon, North Carolina embodied grit as it overcame a 1.475 deficit halfway through the meet. Despite shaky performances in other rotations, the team showed grace through their floor routines, with scores ranging from 9.750 to 9.900. And lastly, the Tar Heels showed gratitude as they talked to every young fan that waited after the meet.
“We felt like those were the three words that we wanted to encapture throughout the year, and it helps a lot,” Dean said. “It’s really cool because if we really apply those three words, then that is the team we want to be going into EAGLs and Regionals.”
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