UNC gymnastics first-years shined through with impressive performances Friday, helping get the team its first top finish of the season and showing promise for the future of the program.
North Carolina hosted its third home meet of the season a few days ago, when they faced off against EAGL conference opponents Pitt and Towson.
Head coach Danna Durante wanted the UNC gymnasts to start where they left off at the first half of the UNC Quad Meet last weekend — where they had a close second-place finish behind Missouri — and build from there.
North Carolina, the fifth-ranked EAGL team, did just that. They put up a strong, consistent performance that allowed them to stay above Pitt throughout the entirety of the match and kept them in a close battle with Towson — ranked sixth and second in the EAGL, respectively.
The fight for first place between the Tar Heels and the Tigers was so close that it came down to the final performance of the final rotation to determine a winner.
North Carolina’s final rotation was floor, which was led by first-year Julia Knower as the highest scorer. Knower went into floor having also led the team in its second-to-last rotation at beam. Her high-energy performance and clean execution allowed her to score a 9.900 on her floor routine.
This secured the UNC victory and served as the highest score on floor for any Tar Heel gymnast this season.
“Going into that last routine, I wasn’t nervous at all,” Knower said. “I knew my team believed in me and my coaches believed in me. I just wanted to leave it all out on the floor.”
Knower’s impressive performance was essential in contributing to UNC’s 49.225 total points on floor, its best rotation of the meet. Floor was also the best individual event for Knower, who scored a 9.750 on vault, a 9.800 on bars and a 9.875 on beam. It was this rotation that allowed North Carolina to pull ahead of higher-ranked Towson, who had led the whole meet, and win first place.
“Julia Knower bounced back just as we expected her to,” Durante said.
The 39.325 total points that Knower accumulated at the meet allowed her to finish second all-around. Her fellow first-year Lali Dekanoidze finished first with 39.450 total points, just .125 more than Knower. This win is partially due to Dekanoidze’s matched career-best vault score of 9.900. It was the second all-around title Dekanoidze has won this season.
“I just love to help out the team and be there for everyone,” Dekanoidze said. “The team is a really big part of me doing well in all-around.”
The two highest all-around scores of the UNC Quad Meet belonging to first-year UNC gymnasts demonstrates the potential for the future of the program under their new leadership.
Dekanoidze and Knower’s performances, as well as strong performances and support from their teammates, allowed North Carolina to secure a first-place finish for the first time this season. UNC accumulated 196.000 points, narrowly beating Towson, who scored 195.975.
After their first first-place finish of the season, the Tar Heels will hit the road this week to face off against Alabama and Western Michigan at Friday’s Alabama Tri Meet.
“I’m excited about how the team did and really looking forward to the next step,” Durante said.
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