Maryland gymnastics’ freshmen “get the team fired up” with strong leadoff scores
Freshman Aleka Tsiknias on bars during Maryland gymnastics 195.750-194.000 win over Rutgers on Feb. 16, 2020. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)
Three rotations about the high bar and a near-perfect landing from Aleka Tsiknias were a fitting end to her opening routine in Maryland gymnastics’ final event at Saturday’s Big Five meet.
The freshman opened for Maryland on floor in addition to bars, averaging a score of 9.813 from the leadoff spot. When Tsiknias wasn’t slated first in an event, it was freshman Reese McClure — she did so on beam and vault, averaging 9.750 when leading off.
In addition to freshman Emma Silberman becoming a constant all-around competitor for the Terps, Tsiknias and McClure have shown off the program’s youth by delivering consistent scores at the top of each rotation.
“The freshmen are stepping up, and they’re exciting to watch,” coach Brett Nelligan said. “Silberman and Reese, on floor, had personal bests … they’re just out there having fun. It’s refreshing.”
The personal bests for Silberman and Tsiknias both came on vault, posting 9.850 and 9.900 respectively. McClure also tied her career-high score with a 9.900 on floor.
The freshmen’s high scores on the front end of each event have also served as a spark for the gymnasts that follow them.
“They get the team fired up,” Nelligan said. “When you see Reese, or Emma, or Aleka hit a big routine, they always run back to the team, fired up … It gets everybody going.”
With junior Audrey Barber and senior Kirsten Peterman out of the lineup for the Terps, Nelligan has called on a few of his younger gymnasts to fill their shoes. It hasn’t always worked out this season, with inexperience contributing to occasional slip-ups, but their coaches and teammates have been patient as they’ve progressed.
“Everyone was really supportive with us,” Tsiknias said, ”and we put up strong, confident routines to start out the meet on each event.”
McClure has posted relatively consistent scores all season long — all have been at or above 9.700. On the other hand, Tsiknias has had some shaky moments this campaign, averaging a 9.467 on vault heading into Saturday.
But in the Big Five meet, the Spartanburg, South Carolina native’s improvement was on full display as she shattered her career-high with a 9.900 to open the rotation for Maryland.
Although the Terps took home fifth place at the meet, their 195.325 score was on par with their marks from prior meets. The upperclassmen still in the lineup were grateful for Tsiknias and McClure’s contributions to a score they were proud of at the end of the night.
“Reese and Aleka started us off on every event, and they were just great,” senior Tiara Wright said. “We knew that they were going to put up big routines, and we could follow strong.”
Silberman, Tsiknias and McClure help their team in multiple ways — and not just by earning quality scores at the front of the rotation. The intangibles the group brings to the table are a constant source of motivation for their teammates.
“[The freshmen] remind our upperclassmen how fun this is,” Nelligan said. “The upperclassmen are toward the end of their careers, looking back, and these freshmen are just showing them it can be fun again.”