As the Rutgers gymnastics team stayed in New Jersey, sophomore Belle Huang ventured out into uncharted territory to compete at the NCAA Regionals hosted by the University of Georgia over the weekend.
The lone Scarlet Knight competed on floor in the first session and posted a 9.900 to tie for third among 25 other gymnasts from nationally-ranked teams. From both of the sessions, Huang wound up fifth in a field of 53 that competed in the event on Friday.
“She had a fantastic performance, probably one of the best routines she's done all year,” said head coach Umme Salim-Beasley. “She really went out, did a clean routine. She was aggressive. She just had a lot of fun and enjoyed it. She was really excited. (It) was one of the higher scores that we're given today, and she got that from all four judges.”
Huang’s floor performance in Georgia tied the highest-recorded score at the NCAA level in Rutgers history. In 2002, Courtney Turner represented the Knights at regionals, also throwing down a 9.900 in floor.
Making her first NCAA appearance last year as a freshman, Huang competed in the all-around event where she scored a 9.825 on floor, adding to her total of 38.600.
Even with a score that placed Huang within the top five performances at regionals, she still remained her humble self. After her performance was finished, Huang only had two words to describe how she felt: relieved and excited.
“I thought it went well,” Huang said. “There was a few minor mistakes, but it's hard to be perfect every routine.”
Rutgers’ return to the national stage marks its ninth consecutive year that the Knights have performed at NCAA Regionals. The last time all of the team's gymnasts competed at that level was back in 2014, where they recorded a team score of 193.750.
The seniors have set the bar high for Rutgers when they come together next season, but with new talent coming in and a more defined team culture, they aren’t shying away from vocalizing the goal that’s on everybody’s mind.
“Looking at the gymnastics that we were seeing, we know that are team is just as capable as being there as a team,” Salim-Beasley said. “I think it really drives me as a coach to be able to get our whole team here next year.”
What does it take to get there? In Salim-Beasley’s eyes, not much more than what the Knights are already doing. Minor mistakes and details matter in the gymnastics world.
Rutgers is going to continue to improve in those aspects, but also take on challenging routines in the hopes of garnering more points for the team.
“I really don't think it was us having to change our routines,” Salim-Beasley said. “We just needed a few more routines in our lineup that had a higher level of difficulty and that would've helped our scores this year to be able to have two or three more routines scoring in the 9.5-9.9 range.”
When a completely new coaching staff joins a team, anything can happen. A team can either rise or fall. Time and time again, the Knights are seen as the underdogs in the Big Ten, so Rutgers decided to capitalize on that.
This season, the Knights defeated nationally-ranked Big Ten rivals Penn State and Ohio State. Rutgers learned valuable lessons to stay in its own bubble and brush past any adversity that comes in its way.
At the Big Ten Championships, the Knights did drop to the bottom of the conference. To Rutgers, it was a big disappointment because it knows that it's capable of so much more. Reviewing the season as a whole, one thing is for certain.
The grind never stops.
“We just have to keep doing what we've been doing,” Huang said.
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