The North Carolina gymnastics team kicked off its spring campaign with the inaugural Super 16 meet in Las Vegas on Jan. 6. After a record-breaking 2022 season under new head coach Danna Durante, the team has high hopes for the program's future.
North Carolina is coming off of its first East Atlantic Gymnastics League regular-season championship after posting an undefeated conference record in 2022. The team proceeded to make a postseason run, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Regionals.
UNC is currently ranked No. 31 and projected to finish atop the conference again this season under the guidance of Durante, and her gymnasts demonstrated the high potential in the annual Blue & White Intrasquad scrimmage on Dec. 14.
“Our focus was to do clean, consistent, well-executed gymnastics,” Durante said. “The vaults themselves were executed very well. Very dynamic, great amplitude, great shape and similar on floor.”
The team followed up that event with the Super 16, in which they faced quality programs like No. 20 Southern Utah and No. 23 Washington. North Carolina placed third and was highlighted by sophomore Julia Knower’s third place in all-around scores.
Now, the team will prepare for EAGL play, which begins with a matchup against conference rival N.C. State on Monday.
Junior Jamie Shearer felt confident about the team's outlook heading into the season after what she considered to be a strong intrasquad meet.
“We're either where we were at the end of last season or maybe even a little bit better,” Shearer said. “We had a lot of sticks, which is really, really hard to do this early in the season, so that was really cool to see and definitely something that has been paying off in the preseason."
The Tar Heels will be helped by the return of sophomore Lali Dekanoidze, who missed the final three weeks of last season and the postseason due to a dislocated and fractured patella and torn ligament that required surgery. Dekanoidze had a productive first season with UNC, and was named EAGL Gymnast of the Week four times and earning four all-around titles.
Dekanoidze performed on both vault and bars in the scrimmage. Her form was strong, and she stuck the landing in both events, proving that she is ready for a successful upcoming season. She performed on vault in the Super 16, scoring a mark of 9.775 — a placement in the upper half of the competitors.
“It was an amazing feeling, a feeling I’ve never felt before,” Dekanoidze said of her return. “Nothing has been as rewarding as the intrasquad, because I know the process and how long it took and how much hard work and patience it took to get there.”
Dekanoidze's dedication to her rehab didn't go unnoticed. She was joined in her recovery journey by Hallie Thompson, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the first meet of last season.
“We work hard to make sure that the environment we foster is accepting and inclusive of everyone while also striving for each individual to maximize their ability,” Durante said. “They’re a joy to work with every day.”
Despite falling to Washington and Southern Utah in the Super 16, UNC remains confident that its future is bright. The Tar Heels look forward to their next three meets in front of a home crowd in Carmichael Arena.
“We’re in that era where we’re trying to change how people see Carolina gymnastics,” Shearer said. “Starting at a really cool meet and an inaugural meet with a bunch of really good teams is good for us to be able to put our names in that mix and show everybody that we are someone to be talked about.”
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