By: John Hack, Staff Writer
A few nights before springing into their first competitive meet of the new year, Towson University’s gymnastics team spent an evening out together at SECU Arena cheering on the men’s basketball team, who defeated Drexel, 89-73.
A few days later, the gymnastics squad would begin a new chapter in the history of their program, on several fronts. Not only did Sunday afternoon’s competition with the University of Pennsylvania mark the first meet the Tigers competed with outside competition in the new season, but it also marked the first meet in which Jay Ramirez was head coach.
The team has a comfortable mix of nerves and excitement heading into the season.
“Just some minor jitters before the meet and just like small nerves that any athlete has going into the competition,” sophomore Nikki Borkowski said. “But I’m overall excited and just ready to get out there on the competition floor.”
This was a common feeling amongst the athletes, including the upperclassman. It’s a new era of Towson gymnastics and the program is looking for a successful season.
“I mean, you always have nerves at the beginning of the season,” junior Tess Zientak said. “But I’m really excited to see everyone go out there and have fun and let everything prevail and I think it’s gonna be a really good year. Actually, I know it’s gonna be a really good year.”
If Sunday afternoon’s performance at The Palestra wasn’t enough to give a reason to Zientek’s confidence, it was very, very close.
Towson defeated the University of Pennsylvania 192.650-191.425.
With three of the six gymnasts who opened the competition on the uneven bars being freshman, one could understand feelings of uneasy or anxiety before swinging and spinning persistently in front of judges, peers, and spectators while horizontally, somewhat, to the floor.
Yet this didn’t appear to be the case on the uneven bars, nor was it on the vault, or on the floor. In fact, of the 23 individual exercises that were performed by Tigers in the competition, 11 came from freshman. Despite making their collegiate debuts, none committed a fall.
One freshman who had a strong debut was Paige Casper. Competing in the balance beam and floor routine she scored a 9.650 in beam and a 9.725 in floor. Her floor score was the best for Towson.
“I was super excited for the freshmen,” Ramirez said.
Just a day earlier, Ramirez was working away on recruiting efforts nearly 400 miles north in Montreal. Ramirez added that he was really impressed with how he felt the freshmen ‘stepped up to the plate’ on Sunday.
In addition to Casper, freshman Lauren Bolen, who was the sole all-around competitor for Towson, competed in all four events, scoring a total of 38.375 to open her collegiate career.
The freshmen had experience and leadership to help them in their efforts as well. In addition to Bolen, Zientek, who is recovering from injury to her shoulder and knee earned the highest score on the uneven bars with a 9.775 score as senior captain Ally Wesoly finished just behind with a 9.750.
Sophomore Emerson Hurst, along with Wesoly, scored a 9.750 on the vault which helped propel the Tigers to finish off a solid opening two routines.
Springing into the second half of the meet, Casper led Towson on the floor exercise with a 9.725 score. The Tigers didn’t evoke an error until the fourth and final exercise when two falls were committed on the balance beam by Wesoly and Packard.
“I definitely think we can clean up our landings,” said Ramirez, adding that he’d like to work on cleaning up executions as well.
All in all, Ramirez said he was impressed with how the team did for their first collegiate meet and is looking forward to seeing how they can improve as the season progresses.
Towson will arrive back home to compete in their first collegiate meet at SECU arena this season as they host West Chester University, William & Mary, and Cornell on Friday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.