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UNC gymnastics uses "own it" mentality to notch highest score of the season in win over Pitt

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The team celebrates during the meet against Pitt in Carmichael Stadium on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. UNC won with a score of 196.650-196.125.

Until this season, UNC junior gymnast Taylor Schulze hadn’t done a floor routine since her sophomore year of high school.

Schulze’s head coach, Danna Durante, told her that this year the team needed her.

"You need to do floor.” 


UNC Junior Taylor Schulze performs her floor routine during the meet against Pitt in Carmichael Stadium on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. UNC won with a score of 196.650-196.125.


And on Friday against Pittsburgh, Schulze’s team needed her. UNC had a slim lead over Pitt, 147.425-147.400, going into its final rotation: floor. Schulze had just slipped on the dismount of her beam routine, dropping her score to 8.900.

How would she respond? With a career high of 9.875 on floor.

Schulze was one of six Tar Heels who set a career high in their respective events to help UNC achieve its highest score of the season in its 196.650-196.125win over Pitt. To overcome the injuries and illness that were wrecking the team’s rhythm and grab their first ACC victory in five tries, Schulze and the Tar Heels honed in on one of their words of the week: “Own it.”

Normally in UNC’s team meetings after a meet, the Tar Heels pick one or two words of the week. This week, after a loss at N.C. State, it was four. Senior Jamie Shearer brought up one of the phrases: “Own it.”

It was fitting, as Shearer notched her season high on bars on Friday. Durante admitted UNC has struggled in the bars rotation this season, and Shearer had to set the tone by going first. She did — by owning it.


UNC Senior Jamie Shearer performs a bars routine during the meet against Pitt in Carmichael Stadium on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. UNC won with a score of 196.650-196.125.


But what does "owning it" look like?

“It looks like, your chin is up,” Durante said. “You’re confident. You’re smiling, right? There’s just a sharpness to your body.”

Before this season, Schulze wouldn't have envisioned she’d do any of that in a floor routine.

“When [Durante] was like ‘You're doing floor now,’” Schulze said, “I was like, ‘I can't imagine myself dancing in front of the entire Carmichael Arena.’”

Now, she’s done it twice: First when UNC hosted Clemson on Jan. 26 and next on Friday. And now, Schulze said doing floor is fun, which is what keeps her going.

But after slipping in her beam routine, Schulze needed a reminder of what she owned. Five teammates came up to her before her floor routine, including junior Julia Knower, who told Schulze she had earned her spot.

UNC Junior Julia Knower vaults during the meet against Pitt in Carmichael Stadium on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. UNC won with a score of 196.650-196.125.

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Schulze still struggled to own her talent even after the meet. During their post-meet interview together, Knower heard Schulze say she “wound up” in the lineup and later corrected her.

“No, she earned that spot,” Knower said. “I mean, we're in a competitive sport. No one just gets thrown into a lineup. You work and you earn that spot. Especially our floor team — you gotta work, you gotta fight to get in there.”

Hearing all the encouragement from Knower and her teammates got Schulze fired up, so she attacked. Watching back her performance at N.C. State, she didn’t like either of her landings after her tumbling passes, so in practice and warm-ups, that was her main focus.

Schulze stuck both of her landings in her routine en route to a career high: 9.875

For the first time this season, North Carolina eclipsed the 196.000 mark.


The team celebrates during the meet against Pitt in Carmichael Stadium on Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. UNC won with a score of 196.650-196.125.


But if you ask the Tar Heels, it doesn’t stop there. Knower said UNC is a “9.900 team.” That is, a team that can average 9.900 points per routine. Only one team in the country, Oklahoma, does that.

North Carolina has a ways to go before it’s a 9.900 team, but the Tar Heels have confidence in their ability. That much, they own.

“Honestly, knowing and owning what I'm capable of,” Knower said, “that always fires me up.”

@dmtwumasi

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com