New kids on the block: Maryland gymnastics’ newcomers led the way in season opener

Head coach Brett Nelligan gives instructions during Maryland’s quad meet win on Feb. 11, 2018 at Xfinity Center. (Marquise McKine/The Diamondback)

Freshman Reese McClure opened with a 9.825 on vault for Maryland gymnastics Saturday night. Minutes later, freshman Emma Silberman followed with an identical 9.825. Bolstered by the freshman duo’s strong start, coach Brett Nelligan’s squad put up the seventh-best team score on vault in the country, tied with BYU.

McClure and Silberman weren’t the only Terp rookies to put together quality routines at the Little Boston Invitational, though. Freshman Aleka Tsiknias competed on floor and bars, earning an average score of 9.725.

And in their first meet with Maryland gymnastics, newcomers were significant contributors to the team’s best start in program history.

“The freshmen were unbelievable,” Nelligan said. “You see them in the gym every day, but you never really know what you’re going to get until they’re out on the floor.”

The night started with Tsiknias posting her meet-high score of 9.750 on the uneven bars. Silberman was next in the lineup, notching a 9.775, and was welcomed off the mat with an embrace from Nelligan.

[Read more: Maryland gymnastics climbs to program-best No. 8 in national rankings after first meet]

McClure’s debut came in the next rotation, leading off on beam. After nailing her dismount, the judges awarded her with a score of 9.825.

Nelligan’s newest gymnasts were certainly not without nerves on Saturday, but as the great routines kept coming, the nerves quickly subsided.

“I was relieved after the routine because I was so nervous,” McClure said. “I was happy to start the event off strong and to see everyone else’s scores build off of mine.”

And McClure’s heightened confidence was on full display as she moved to the floor, flipping her way to a 9.825 — Maryland’s joint-best score in the event.

“Reese was electric on beam, vault, and floor,” junior Audrey Barber said. “She was amazing today.”

There was another significant benefit to the breakout performances from the freshmen: veterans and all-arounders didn’t have to carry as much weight as they’re used to.

Barber, a member of the 2020 Big Ten Women’s Gymnasts to Watch list, was the only Maryland gymnast to compete in every event Saturday. And while the Temple Hills native still impressed — she earned at least a 9.8 on each of her four events — there wasn’t much pressure on her to bring up the team score.

[Read more: Maryland gymnastics posts 196.150, highest score to open season in program history]

“The team did a great job not having to put her in tough situations,” Nelligan said. “By hitting five routines before her on every event, she could relax and put all her effort into hitting her routine.”

Barber was especially impressed with the rookies’ displays, praising McClure, Tsiknias, and Silberman for their composure.

“I was so proud of my freshmen,” Barber said. “Most of them were in lead-off positions, and that can be nerve-wracking. They really killed it.”

Nelligan believes the freshmen who competed at the Little Boston Invitational provided just a glimpse of the future for Maryland gymnastics.

“They were calm, they were confident, they were poised,” Nelligan said. “They just began what are going to be incredible careers for all of them.”

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