“We were explosive”: A hot start fueled Maryland gymnastics’ season-best showing

Maryland gymnastics freshman Reese McClure celebrates her 9.900 score on vault during the Terrapin Invitational on March 1, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Just after team introductions Sunday afternoon, Maryland gymnastics headed to the locker room. With a first rotation bye at the Terrapin Invitational, the Terps would have to wait to begin their routines.

Some 30 minutes later, Maryland emerged from the locker room, showing no signs of going cold. And that’s when freshman Reese McClure ignited her teammates with a career-high 9.900 on vault at the top of the team’s first rotation.

It was high-level performances like McClure’s that spurred the team on throughout the day. Maryland didn’t let up for the rest of the event — or the rest of the meet.

Coach Brett Nelligan’s squad stuck every landing, shining with a 49.225 on vault, and scores above 49.000 in the next three events. For a team that has struggled in the first rotation all season, the hot start was a welcomed deviance from the norm — one that proved crucial for the Terps to put up a season-high score Sunday.

“We said we got to start like this,” Nelligan said. “We were loose, we were having fun, we were explosive. We needed to start like that from the beginning, and we made it a big point to make sure that we did that, then the results followed.”

[Read more: Maryland gymnastics posts season-high 196.975 to sweep Terrapin Invitational on Senior Day]

Sunday’s 49.225 score on vault was the highest mark the Terps had earned in their first rotation all year, and it was only the third time they surpassed 49.000 to start a meet. It wasn’t a coincidence that their highest score in the first rotation coincided with their highest overall score of the year: a 196.975.

After meets where the first rotation gave them trouble, Nelligan and his gymnasts would blame their shortcomings on being tight and unready. They showed that wasn’t the case during the Terrapin Invitational, and their high scores throughout the afternoon all pointed back to McClure’s career-high opener.

“Reese started off the entire meet just so strong because she got almost a perfect score,” senior Alecia Farina said. “So that was just super exciting, and I think it started off the meet great and we just continued that momentum throughout the whole thing.”

The Terps had plenty of chances to let the momentum get away from them, especially when they competed on beam — their worst event. They slot in at 46th in the nation on beam, which is their lowest ranking in an event by more than 15 spots.

But with a score of 49.050 in the Terrapin Invitational, beam only contributed to Maryland’s historic afternoon.

[Read more: Maryland gymnastics will look for the energy from Senior Night to provide an extra boost]

It was the first time the team scored above 49.000 since its first meet, and Nelligan credits his group’s don’t-let-up mentality.

“We made a commitment as a group that we’re not going to take our foot off the gas until this night is over,” Nelligan said. “And they stuck to it; they pushed hard until the very last moment of this meet. That’s why we were able to come out on top and get such a great score.”

And with four meets remaining before the postseason, the domino effect experienced after vault on Sunday is something Maryland hopes to replicate in building on its best meet of the year so far.

“We just feed off of each other,” senior Tiara Wright said. “Once one person has a great routine and they have that positive energy, they put all of their energy right into the next person, so that’s what we did for every single routine tonight.”

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