"Building and thriving."
That’s what the North Carolina gymnastics team is focusing on under new head coach Danna Durante.
After a tough loss at the Rutgers Quad Meet last weekend — where Durante said the team entered "survival mode" — her team returned to Carmichael Arena Saturday for the UNC Quad meet where, in front of an energized home crowd, the Tar Heels placed second with a team score of 196.475 — its highest team score since March 2018.
From their first rotation of vault, the gymnasts were energized and eager to cheer on their teammates and celebrate their performances with hugs and high fives. When first-year Julia Knower suffered a fall in her vault dismount, her teammates' unwavering support gave her the energy to recover quickly.
“I don’t think it changed the momentum because her team had her back,” Durante said.
Even the North Carolina gymnasts who didn’t compete in the team’s first rotation of the meet were impacted by the positive energy, using it to get motivated for upcoming events.
“I really focus on my teammates and hyping them up and staying in it for them," junior Elizabeth Culton said. "It really gets me focused for the next three events."
The all-American Culton was able to maintain this focus throughout her performance at the meet, scoring 9.900, 9.925 and 9.875 on bars, beam and floor, respectively.
The Tar Heels didn’t allow their energy to lessen as the meet progressed. In the team’s third rotation of beam, first-year Lali Dekanoidze put up a 9.900, her second time scoring this high at beam in three meets so far this season.
Dekanoidze and her teammates all notched scores better than 9.500 on the beam, setting the fifth-best team beam mark in program history.
To hear Dekanoidze tell it, all that conviction came from her teammates.
“I have a new sense of confidence when I do beam,” Dekanoidze said.“I think my team really helps me. Before I go, I always hear ‘I’ve got your back, we trust you.’”
As UNC ended the day with floor, over two hours after the meet began, the energy of the team never wavered — on or off the floor — with the whole team storming the mat once the proverbial clock hit zero.
This mindset not only gave the Tar Heels the energy to have their best finish in years, but the drive to keep that mindset going throughout the rest of what is sure to be a tough EAGL schedule.
“I just love watching my teammates perform like they train,” Dekanoidze said. “I’m genuinely so happy for everyone when they do a good routine.”
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