“I love the anchor”: Audrey Barber relishes role as closer for Maryland gymnastics

Junior Audrey Barber poses after her floor routine during Maryland gymnastics' 196.125-195.675 win over Iowa at Xfinity Center on Jan. 19, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Before Maryland gymnastics clinched its victory during the floor event Sunday, the loudest Xfinity Center got was following junior Audrey Barber’s record-breaking routine on the uneven bars.

Barber pulled off a 9.950 on her routine, which kept the Terps ahead of Iowa after two rotations. Barber’s teammates, coaches and fans erupted at the end of her perfect dismount, not even knowing her score was the program’s best.

Maryland’s only all-around competitor was ecstatic at the sight of the judges’ scores as she led the way in the Terps’ second-straight 196-plus outing. And through two meets in 2020, she has become a consistent top performer as the Terps’ anchor.

“I love the anchor spot,” Barber said. “Watching everybody else gets me pumped up for my routine. Going last is tough sometimes, but when everyone hits in front of you, it just sets me up for a good routine.”

[Read more: Audrey Barber shines on bars and floor, powering Maryland gymnastics to 196.125 vs. Iowa]

After hitting on her near-perfect routine on the bars, Barber was put in a tough spot — the Terps held a slim advantage entering the final rotation.

But Barber delivered, earning a career-high 9.925.

“We knew we had to be tough and put up six great routines,” Barber said. “Seeing all the routines before me got me excited, and I had to do the best that I could.”

Barber was a stand-out piece of Maryland’s run to the second round of NCAA Regionals a year ago. The then-sophomore impressed in all disciplines, posting a score of 39.025 or above in all but three meets.

Buoyed by her strong performances — performances that earned her a second-team All-Big Ten nod — the Temple Hills native spent the offseason preparing to be her team’s leading gymnast.

The hard work that has helped Barber become a star for the program has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. Coach Brett Nelligan recruited Barber locally and has watched her blossom into a closer in three of her four events.

“Since her freshman year, she’s always been toward the back of every lineup,” Nelligan said. “I know she’s comfortable there, and I know she can handle any situation that comes her way.”

[Read more: New kids on the block: Maryland gymnastics’ newcomers led the way in season opener]

Barber’s outstanding scores early this season have even helped boost the confidence of her teammates.

“It’s amazing having her behind me on every event,” senior Tiara Wright said. “Once I go up and hit, I’m always confident that she will go up and finish us off strong.”

Barber was named “Terp of the Week” Monday by Maryland Athletics, and she currently ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten on bars while sitting at No. 11 nationally on bars and all-around. Just two meets into the 2020 season, Barber has shown she can take the Terps to the next level.

Now in her third year with the program, those who cheer Barber on from beside the mat marvel at her maturity in high-pressure situations.

And Barber’s exploits Sunday showed off her cool and collected approach — a quality Nelligan’s squad will rely on as Big Ten play ramps up in the coming weeks.

“Her mental focus has totally improved,” Nelligan said. “She doesn’t let anything bother her — like a shaky warm-up or something like that. Those were things that maybe would have bothered her as a freshman, but she is mentally tougher now.”

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