Following a two-week hiatus, the North Carolina gymnastics team returned to competition by picking up right where it left off.
After a promising start to the season that saw the team break the program home-opener score record with a 196.225-195.525 win over EAGL rival N.C. State, the Tar Heels performed even better at the Carolina Tri-Meet on Monday — finishing with finals scores of 196.250 in wins over UW-Stout and Yale.
With the extended break, the team began to feel as though it was back in the preseason. To offset the two-week layoff between meets, the team dedicated the second half of last week to intrasquads, where the Tar Heels practiced as though they were in a competition setting.
“It’s nice doing it in practice because you learn what you need to do there and bring that over to the real competition in front of an audience,” sophomore Julia Knower said. “It’s super beneficial because we’re allowed to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and bring our new found knowledge from that to the competition setting.”
A tri-meet is different than what North Carolina is used to, and the extended time between events served as a potential challenge. However, head coach Danna Durante said she believes her team handled this well and said that the waiting will ultimately prepare them for the postseason.
“Any win is good, especially after a weekend off,” Durante said. “It’s good to get our feet back underneath us and get that momentum back before we see another EAGL opponent.”
Knower was a significant contributor to the win, serving as the team’s only all-around competitor. She won her second all-around title of the season with a score of 39.175. In the home opener, she won her first with a career-best 39.450.
To compete all-around, Knower has her warm-ups memorized and knows how to prepare herself without wearing herself out. She also said competing all-around teaches a gymnast a lesson in trusting themselves and accepting the trust of their teammates
“I’m honored to have that trust from my teammates," Knower said. "That they know I can go out there week in, week out and compete in all four events, that’s what keeps me going even on the days where I’m tired. My team picks me up no matter what.”
Senior Elizabeth Culton also thrived in Monday’s meet. Although she admitted to having a rocky start to the season, she put up a 9.900 on beam, a 9.850 on bars and a 9.800 on floor.
The veteran gymnast said that her recent performances have not been up to her standard, but that after the Carolina Tri-Meet, it’s “good to have the old Liz back.”
“What helps me is to focus on my teammates before me and cheer them on and support them,” Culton said. “That really sets the mood and gets me ready to do my best.”
Coming off of this high-scoring win, the Tar Heels likely will not have to worry about losing their momentum again. They will remain in Chapel Hill for Saturday’s conference matchup against George Washington, and after that tilt, the team will head to Raleigh for another meet against the Wolfpack.
With a more consistent schedule in place, the team is looking forward to seeing their work pay off en route to building a strong foundation for the rest of the season.
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