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Despite loss to N.C. State, UNC women's gymnastics is proud of its energy

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UNC junior Bella Miller celebrates after her floor routine during the gymnastics meet against NC State at Reynolds Coliseum on Feb. 11, 2024.

RALEIGH, N.C. — As her team transitioned to the mat for the floor exercise, UNC gymnastics head coach Danna Durante heard a “Tar! Heels!” call-and-response chant ring from the upper bowl of Reynolds Coliseum

Durante looked up, smiled and joined in, cupping her hands to yell “Tar!” and clapping to thank the fans afterwards.

Through all the North Carolina women’s gymnastics team has battled this season — injuries, bouts of flu and even food poisoning — the Tar Heels’ floor exercise at N.C. State on Sunday showed their head coach what her team had been missing: fun.

“That energy, it was just really fun to see and to feel,” Durante said. “And I feel like it’s been a little bit since we felt that on the competition floor.”

UNC’s floor score of 49.100 wasn’t enough to prevent it from falling to 0-4 in the ACC after a 194.925-196.725 loss to the Wolfpack. But Durante saw glimpses of who the Tar Heels could be when they brought that missing energy. Her action item for the second half of the season: remind her gymnasts how fun Sunday was.

Energy is the key for junior Bella Miller. She’s the first to run to her teammates after a routine and hug them after or give them a high five. Why? Because Miller is motivated by people.

“I think that I get energy from giving my energy to others,” Miller said. “And in return, they give it back.”

Miller said her teammates always tell her they trust her, so when sophomore Amy Wozniak stood in the corner waiting to start her routine, Miller told her “I trust you. 100 percent.”

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The UNC gymnastics team watches junior Julia Knower on vault during the meet against NC State at Reynolds Coliseum on Feb. 11, 2024.

When Wozniak landed her second skill, Miller stomped her left foot and fist-pumped to the ground, bellowing “Go! Let’s go!” to the UNC fans in the upper bowl. Safe to say, she was giving her energy.

One might say Miller got the energy she gave, too; she set a career-high floor score of 9.850.

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“It really helps when there's people on the outside who watch you every day, knowing that you're just as capable as you think you are,” Miller said.

That’s what helped first-year Camryn Rueda also set a career-high floor score, notching a 9.875. College gymnastics isn’t much different for Rueda — except for the team atmosphere, which feels like a family.

The family feeling was on display during Rueda’s performance. As she wound up for the next move of her routine, senior Kate Greene ran from the other side of the mat to encourage Rueda. Her words: “strong” and “breathe.”

Rueda has a few words of her own she tells herself when she gets nervous: “for the team.”

“We go out there, we do this for each other,” Rueda said. “We all work hard for each other to get better every single day.”

Durante anticipated what critics may say about North Carolina: that the Tar Heels haven't hit a score of 196 in a meet — and that UNC is the only team in the ACC not to; that they’ve scratched 195 just twice in six meets this season.

But Durante knows what her team has been through. So instead, she’ll take stock in her team’s togetherness. She’ll take pride in junior Julia Knower telling her “I will always show up” after UNC’s beam rotation. She’ll make sure the team knows how proud she is of its fight and fire on Sunday.

Because Durante believes her team is right there. Right on the cusp of a complete performance.

“I have to believe as hard as these guys work, as hard as these guys work, it will come.”

@dmtwumasi

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com