In front of a record 4,125 home fans at Carmichael Arena on Friday night, the UNC gymnastics team, under the new leadership of head coach Danna Durante, walked away with a score of 195.70 and a second-place finish to start its season at the UNC Tri Meet.
The Tar Heels, who went 11-2 in the 2021 season, faced off against Bowling Green and Auburn in their season opener. The meet featured four events — vault, uneven parallel bars, floor exercise and balance beam.
North Carolina’s first event was vault, in which the six competing Tar Heels accumulated 49.025 points. UNC earned an early lead in the first rotation, with Auburn trailing just behind with 48.825 points on the uneven parallel bars and Bowling Green falling in last place with 48.625 points on their floor exercise.
The Tar Heels then advanced to the uneven parallel bars, from which they walked away with 49 total points. Despite North Carolina’s improved performance, Auburn pulled ahead in the second rotation with an admirable 49.150 on the balance beam. The third rotation, in which UNC competed on beam, proved to be its worst rotation yet, resulting in a score of 48.875. They were outscored by Auburn once again, allowing Auburn to secure first place in the rotation.
The Tar Heels proved unable to recover from this third rotation, and performed even worse in their final rotation of the floor exercise, where they scored 48.800. Auburn secured first place at the tri meet with 196.300 points, but were closely followed by North Carolina, who had a total of 195.700 points to finish second in its first meet of the year.
Who stood out?
The Tar Heels came out ready to compete on Friday, as evident by their scores in each event. Although no North Carolina gymnast scored below a 9.450 on vault, senior Emery Summey and first-year Lali Dekanoidze pulled ahead of the pack, each scoring a 9.825. Dekanoidze competed again in bars and outdid herself with a score of 9.875.
However, the new Tar Heel was not satisfied there. She did just as well on beam, walking away from the event with a 9.850. Fellow first-year Isabelle Schaefer also stood out on the uneven parallel bars, also earning a score of 9.875. Although beam was a low point for North Carolina in the tri meet, the team still shone in the form of first-year Julia Knower, who put up a nearly perfect score of 9.925.
Floor proved to be the worst rotation of all for the Tar Heels, but junior Elizabeth Culton had the highest score on the team with a 9.850. It took a team effort for UNC to walk away with a close second place finish today, but Dekanoidze showed her potential as a new Tar Heel by being the top scorer of the event with 39.325 of 40 total possible points.
When was it decided?
This meet was never truly decided until the last competitor finished their last event. Auburn and North Carolina fought closely for first place during the entirety of the meet, with Auburn barely getting away with the win due to UNC’s decreased performance in the second half of the matchup.
Why does it matter?
This meet was North Carolina’s chance to begin the season with a win at home. Tonight’s performance showcased the new leadership of Durante. Though Durante is new to North Carolina, she has over 20 years of college gymnastics coaching experience, most recently at the University of Georgia.
Durante isn’t the only new addition to the Tar Heel team in the 2022 season — the 21-person roster also features six newcomers. Tonight’s match provided the opportunity for new and old members of the UNC gymnastics community — coaches and players alike — to demonstrate their ability to work together to have a successful performance. North Carolina’s second place finish, only .600 points behind first place Auburn, and the all-around champion being a first-year, provides hope for the upcoming season and the future of UNC gymnastics.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will hit the road for their first away meet of the season at Rutgers on Jan. 15.
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