The Maryland gymnastics team enters next weekend’s NCAA tournament with nearly no postseason experience — but it’s not scared.
In fact, it believes its youth was beneficial in qualifying for its first postseason in three years.
Maryland used almost exclusively underclassmen to qualify for its first postseason in three years — five freshmen and four sophomores have led the squad, pushing it to new heights despite a dearth of upperclassmen experience.
“One of our strengths has been our toughness and our fearlessness,” coach Brett Nelligan said. “We’ve gone up against some of the best teams in the country. We’ve beat some and some we competed right to the finish.”
Although there is added pressure from being at the collegiate level of gymnastics, freshman Audrey Barber said that she appreciates the increased support from her team compared to at the club level, a sentiment echoed by freshman Karrie Thomas.
“Competing for Maryland is way different especially due to the atmosphere,” Thomas said. “My teammates lift me up, and in club I was doing everything by myself.”
Thomas said that the support on the sidelines during a meet benefits her confidence during a routine. But Barber said the added team emphasis also increases stress while performing.
“It’s a lot more fun, but also more stressful because in club if you fall, that just affects you and if you fall here, it affects the team,” Barber said. “If anyone falls in the lineup, it puts pressure on everyone else.”
Still, the Temple Hills native has formed strong relationships with her teammates and coaching staff, helping her improve, Barber said. She competed at every meet this season and is in the anchor spot of some lineups. Her season-best scores are 9.925 on bars, 9.9 on vault and floor and 9.85 on beam.
But after qualifying for the team’s first-ever Big Ten Championships evening session, Barber and the rest of the team struggled at the meet, a rare example of the team blinking under the pressure, she said.
“We have all the skills, but as freshmen we’re just new to the Big Ten,” Thomas said. “Now that we know how it’s like, we’ll do a lot better.”
After a season of surprising results and underclassmen performing beyond their years, though, Nelligan expects the young Terps to bounce back and look more like themselves in their first NCAA tournament appearances.
“This group doesn’t get nervous. They get excited,” Nelligan said. “That’s one of the things I really like about them — the bigger the meet, the more excited they are.”