Last spring, the Maryland gymnastics team set a program regional record with a 195.85 score at the NCAA Raleigh Regional.
It wasn’t nearly enough to advance to the national semifinals. The Terps finished in fourth place behind LSU, Nebraska and NC State.
This season, however, college gymnastics is using a new postseason format to ensure middle-of-the-pack teams like Maryland have something to compete for during regionals. Rather than the six-team meets of years past, the postseason is now centered around the four-team meets that are more common throughout the regular season.
A similar performance to last year’s may allow the Terps to extend their season — if only by a day. With Maryland returning to regional competition in Athens, Georgia, on Friday, the young squad hopes to surpass last year’s score and secure an appearance in the regional finals.
“It’s always the goal to do better than you did the year before,” senior Megan McClelland said. “We’re definitely looking to improve and do our best.”
The Terps will take on No. 1-seed Oklahoma, No. 16-seed California and NC State.
They’re extremely unlikely to finish above the Sooners. But if things go their way, the Terps can beat out the Golden Bears for second place and earn a spot in Saturday’s second round.
“[It’s] more intense emotionally,” freshman Sanya Glauber said. “We want to make it to the next round so badly.”
The team said it is sticking to the detail-oriented values that have gotten it to this point, but the different schedule and intensity of the postseason necessitates some changes.
The nearly two-week layoff since the Big Ten Championships has allowed coach Brett Nelligan to divide up training, with the team working on individual skills and full routines. Nelligan hopes that this dedicated, narrower training will help Maryland’s gymnasts focus on their skills in the midst of stressful conditions.
“This week, we’re doing one routine, but it’s got to be perfect,” Nelligan said. “It’ll feel stressful at times, [but] they have to practice being calm.”
The Terps’ experience in last year’s tournament should give them a boost. But the team hasn’t shied away from the increased nerves it will experience Friday.
“We’re going to practice getting nervous, feeling the energy, feeling the tension,” Nelligan said. “Then [taking] a breath, calming down, and then doing [our routines].”
Meanwhile, the returners have spent the past couple of weeks preparing newcomers like Glauber and freshman Alexsis Rubio for the emotions of the meet.
“We’re definitely ready for a huge crowd compared to what we’ve been used to,” Glauber said. “The pressure is going to be a lot different than what it has been this season.”
After missing the postseason in 2016 and 2017, the Terps have now clinched regional bids in back-to-back seasons, despite relying heavily on underclassmen each of the past two years.
Now, with the help of a friendlier postseason format, they have the chance to take another step forward.
“This is the reason [that] they came here,” Nelligan said. “They committed to come to Maryland to build something, and they’re doing it.”