Maryland gymnastics’ Samantha Gilbert began her dash toward the vault table, ready to put her routine on display during the Big Ten championships. Her combination of twists and flips is a complicated one, and her landing facing away from the vault table does not make it any easier — she had not stuck it in a meet yet this season.
But on Saturday afternoon, as Gilbert floated through the air and prepared to land onto the mat beneath her, she had complete control over her momentum. She did not need a hop, or even a small step, to keep her balance. Instead, she kept both feet glued to the mat and earned her first stuck landing as a Terp.
With that landing came a beaming smile on Gilbert’s face. Coach Brett Nelligan made his way over to the freshman with joy as she received a frenzy of high fives from her teammates. Gilbert had notched herself a new season-high 9.85 on the apparatus.
“I kept telling her, ‘Sam, it’s coming, it’s coming, you’re going to stick it in one of these meets. I don’t know when, but it’s going to happen,’” Nelligan said. “Today she stuck it, and you could see her excitement, you could see my excitement.”
Gilbert’s performance on the vault was just one of several exceptional ones from Maryland’s freshmen Saturday.
The Terps kicked off their afternoon on bars, and freshman Olivia Weir provided Maryland with a solid contribution, recording a 9.70.
Fellow freshman Tayler Osterhout also shined on the apparatus, earning a 9.80 in her fourth time competing this season.
Despite Weir and Osterhout’s contributions, Nelligan’s group fell below the touted 49-point mark on bars and followed it up with a shaky performance on the balance beam. But after a quick pep talk from Nelligan and some improvements on floor, the Terps began their comeback.
“We’re not going to hold our breath, we’re not going to cross our fingers,” Nelligan said. “If you want something to happen, you have to go make it happen.”
And during the final rotation on vault, Gilbert’s score sparked some more impressive marks from the rest of Maryland’s lineup — sophomore Reese McClure matched Gilbert’s 9.85 and only junior Alexsis Rubio surpassed her, with a 9.90.
With Gilbert’s help on the scorecard, the Terps turned around their lackluster first half of the meet on bars and beam to post a solid 195.65 — a score good enough for second place.
The development of Maryland’s freshmen was key in the team’s recovery on Saturday, and for Nelligan, it came as no surprise that they would be a major factor.
“It’s exciting. We know that our freshmen are super talented, but there is that growing period, and every freshman adjusts differently,” Nelligan said. “Tayler took a little bit more time, and Sam did too.”
With a couple of their older teammates sidelined for the rest of the season, Maryland’s freshmen have risen to the occasion and helped the Terps maintain their footing in achieving a NCAA regionals berth.
Looking beyond the rest of the season, Nelligan is optimistic for what the Maryland program will see from the likes of Gilbert, Weir and Osterhout over their four years.
“I’m excited for the future,” Nelligan said. “If we can pick up next year where they leave off now, we’re going to be exceptional.”