Maryland gymnastics senior Audrey Barber has dealt with pressure throughout the entirety of her career. And with the Terps facing a narrow deficit heading into the final rotation of their matchup with Eastern Michigan in the first round of the Tuscaloosa Regionals, the pressure was on once again for the star all-arounder.
Her teammates stepped up to the challenge before her, notching a few 9.80s, but Barber still needed to put up an excellent performance for her and the Terps to advance to Friday evening’s second round quad meet against Auburn, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
And that she did. With every turn, flip and twist of her routine, Barber looked strong. And she did not wobble, despite the weight of coach Brett Nelligan’s squad’s season on her shoulders. Her 9.90 closed out the meet for the Terps, securing a season-best 49.05 team score on the apparatus — and a much-needed win.
“She’s just a winner… That kid just has that special ability that, I don’t know if it’s taught or it’s learned or you’re just born with it, but she has that ability to do the impossible sometimes,” Nelligan said.
Barber’s final routine was the clincher in Maryland’s narrow 195.525-195.475 victory over Eastern Michigan on Thursday afternoon.
Maryland started on the uneven bars, where it opened its must-win meet with a pair of matching 9.70s from sophomore Sophia LeBlanc and freshman Olivia Weir. But it was Glauber who shined on the apparatus, recording a 9.875 and carrying the Terps to a solid 48.825.
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That score was good enough for Nelligan, who decided to not have junior Alexsis Rubio perform as the anchor; the event is not one of her best, and she was added to the lineup as a sort of insurance policy after the Terps lost two of their bars stars to injury: Emma Silberman and Aleka Tsiknias.
“My job today was kind of just to be ready if I was needed,” Rubio said. “I tried to put all of my energy into the bar routines that were going ahead of me, and we nailed it, we did really good, so it got us fired up for our second event.”
Maryland’s gymnasts picked up their intensity during their second rotation on vault. Sophomore Reese McClure let out a shout of glee after her strong leadoff performance. And despite some unremarkably solid routines in the middle of the lineup, Barber and Rubio closed out in impressive fashion, and Maryland took the first lead of the meet.
But things quickly went downhill for Nelligan’s bunch during its third rotation floor exercises. McClure and senior Sabriyya Rouse posted season lows in the event, with a 9.525 and 9.050, respectively. And although Burgess, Barber and LeBlanc all dazzled en route to 9.8s, their efforts could not make up for the stumbles the rest of the lineup faced.
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The Terps started the final rotation out sluggishly. Burgess led off the rotation with a 9.65, and the rest of the lineup would need to step up right away, starting with LeBlanc. The sophomore started with a 9.75 to spark the comeback.
But it was Weir who really brought life to the Terps. She notched a season-best 9.80, and Rouse and McClure followed up with matching scores. And Nelligan’s star in Barber stole the show with her 9.90.
Maryland wasn’t completely certain it had sealed its trip to the second round of the tournament after Barber’s dismount. The Terps gathered shortly thereafter, collectively peering up toward the jumbotron as the scores reeled off the screen. Then came the celebrations, full of screaming and hugging and jumping. Nelligan’s squad had completed the comeback, one that seemed so unlikely just moments earlier.
“I was really happy with my performance today on beam. I felt super calm up there, and as soon as I stuck the dismount and finished it off, I had a great feeling… that we did it and that our beam had brought us up enough to finish out with the win,” Barber said.
And now, in a season unlike any other, Maryland is back where it wants to be — getting another chance to compete with some of the top teams in the country. All it took was a little more Barber magic to get it done.