The Maryland gymnastics team reached the NCAA Regionals in the first six years of coach Brett Nelligan’s tenure and matched the program’s best finish by placing third at the 2015 Auburn Regional.
But the squad missed the postseason the past two years, ranking No. 39 and No. 37 after being top-36 for the previous seven.
The Terps secured their return to the NCAA tournament this season with a No. 31 ranking. Despite not having much postseason experience, the squad feels prepared for the biggest meet of its career.
“The freshmen are really good about not getting nervous,” senior Evelyn Nee said. “This whole season they’ve been doing really well.”
[Read more: Maryland gymnastics has matured quickly behind its upperclassmen leadership]
Nee is one of very few upperclassmen who competed for the Terps this year, but Nelligan said the young team has handled the two-week gap between the Big Ten Championships and Saturday’s NCAA tournament.
Maryland, which has never advanced out of a regional, will compete against No. 2 LSU, No. 11 Nebraska, No. 14 Oregon State, George Washington and North Carolina State in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“My biggest worry was lack of focus and motivation, but they didn’t [show that] at all,” Nelligan said. “As a team, we talked about pushing just as hard this week even though there isn’t a meet. They trained hard, stayed focused and stayed aggressive.”
Though they struggled at the conference championships, the team generally showed improvement as the season progressed. On March 4, the Terps posted a 195.825, and followed that with a 195.975 five days later thanks to stronger scores on their vault and floor exercises.
At the final home meet of the season, the Terps finished with a 196.325, their second-highest mark of the year, fueled by a season-best 49.4 event score on floor.
Nee doesn’t believe her teammates will get nervous Saturday, despite the bigger crowds and stronger teams at the regional. To help avoid any nerves, Nelligan tries to break the meet down into smaller parts for his squad.
“Focus on one thing at a time, and do it well,” Nelligan said. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself or think about the whole meet. Just think about one routine at a time.”
With that attitude, the team hopes to convert its excitement into high scores rather than anxiousness.
“This season, everybody has been going after what we want: regionals,” Nee said. “Everyone has been working together to reach that goal.”