Maryland gymnastics hopes to carry its successes from a shortened season into next year

Maryland gymnastics gathers for a group hug on Senior Day at the Terrapin Invitational meet on March 1, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

2020 started with a bang for Maryland gymnastics. In his 11th season as head coach, Brett Nelligan saw his team post its best score to open a season in program history on Jan. 11. Days later, the Terps soared to No. 8 in the country — their highest ranking ever.

But then Maryland stumbled over the next few weeks, losing two key contributors to injury and academic issues. Before the Terps’ year ended, though, they notched a season-high 196.975 at the Terrapin Invitational on March 1, just .025 shy of Nelligan’s first 197.000 as head coach.

Performances like this raised the Terps’ expectations for the postseason which never took place. The NCAA canceled all sports on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Even with the question marks about what Maryland could have accomplished in the postseason, Nelligan and his gymnasts are hanging their hat on the year’s promising moments.

“I’m hoping that this season is a turning point for the program,” Nelligan said. “I think [we set] a new standard as far as national rankings and a new standard as far as competitiveness in the Big Ten.”

[Read more: Tiara Wright’s gymnastics career began at West Virginia, but it blossomed at Maryland]

The Terps returned some of their highest performers from the 2019 campaign, including Audrey Barber. In the second meet of the year, the junior earned the highest bars score in school history, which propelled her to an all-around ranking of 11th in the country heading into the Terps’ third weekend.

But beginning Feb. 2, the Prince George’s County native was forced to sit out the remainder of the year due to academic ineligibility. Maryland then lost another vital piece in its lineup when senior Kirsten Peterman broke her hand in practice the week before the Terps’ meet at Nebraska.

As a result, that meet turned into Maryland’s worst outing of the abbreviated season. No gymnast earned a score greater than 9.850 en route to the team’s largest deficit, 193.525-196.175.

The following weekend, Nelligan’s squad responded with a near-196.000 showing at home.

“Everyone has their off days, but we don’t want to drag any negativity with us,” sophomore Alexsis Rubio said at the time.

[Read more: “Just warriors”: Maryland gymnastics overcame a bevy of setbacks at GW Invite]

Maryland prided itself on its ability to respond to adversity, including bouncing back from tough losses. The sweep at the Terrapin Invitational was the team’s first competition after placing last at the Big Five meet in late February, for example.

Nelligan is most proud of his gymnasts’ perseverance in their last meet of the season at the George Washington Invite. The Terps were without two gymnasts due to injury, and junior Randi Morris was competing sick with the stomach flu. They salvaged a third-place score of 195.300, leading to high praise from their coach.

“We had a lot going on this week,” Nelligan said the day of the meet. ”I don’t want to make excuses, but I’m just really proud of how tough this team is. We had a meet two days ago, we had kids get banged up in that meet, we had kids throwing up today. They’re just warriors.” 

After recovering from that meet, Maryland was set for another double weekend — at West Virginia and home for the Maryland Five. That’s when the NCAA made its decision to cancel the remainder of the season.

The abrupt end was especially devastating for the team’s seniors, including Alecia Farina, who saw their gymnastics careers come to a premature close.

“Obviously no one was expecting this to happen, but regardless of how the season did end, I think that we were having such a great year,” Farina said. “I think we would have ended the season on a high note because that’s kind of how the season had been going the entire year.”

After a shortened campaign with many ups and downs, the Terps are already gearing up for the 2021 season — at home. Even without equipment available, the gymnasts were given a workout routine to stay in shape.

While members of the team are disappointed with the sudden end to their season, they are thankful for the strong moments they think will improve the program’s trajectory.

“Even though it did get cut short, I definitely still think we had a super good season,” junior Sabriyya Rouse said. “There definitely [are] a lot of highlights to look back on, and I think that’s what we will remember and use moving forward.”

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