Maryland gymnastics had 10 days to prepare itself for the first round of the Tuscaloosa Regional after finding out its position in the NCAA women’s gymnastics tournament on March 22.
So, the Terps went back to the gym. They looked to fine-tune their routines, ensuring they put their best foot forward with a chance to move onto the next round of the tournament.
Maryland’s preparation and focus on improving those details will make or break coach Brett Nelligan’s team’s season during its first-round dual meet against Eastern Michigan, its first non-Big Ten opponent of the season.
From making sure they keep their toes pointed during handstands on the uneven bars to avoiding even the slightest of shakes and wobbles on the balance beam, attention to detail is something the Terps have focused on all season.
“I definitely think we go into every meet with the same mindset, just to focus on our details and just compete how we practice,” senior Audrey Barber said. “This week in the gym we’ve definitely been pretty focused and dialed in.”
With the matchup looming, Maryland’s gymnasts are ready to get back to competition after their most recent showing during the Big Ten championships. The Terps recorded a 195.65 on March 20, their fourth-best score this season.
They want to keep momentum going and replicate that level of performance in the regional competition. For freshman Samantha Gilbert, that means meticulously working through routines in practice to minimize errors.
“I’ve been doing pretty much the same things in practice, just working for those sticks in practice so that when we do go to the meet it’s just muscle memory and it can just happen,” Gilbert said.
But on Thursday afternoon, the Terps do not need to worry about their score — they’ll just need to focus on putting out solid routines. Without the concern of increasing their national qualifying score, Nelligan’s group will just need to be better than Eastern Michigan to continue its season.
And Nelligan believes this will relieve a good amount of pressure from his gymnasts’ shoulders. Perfection is no longer the goal; instead, it’s a tool for getting a much-needed win to advance to the second-round quad meet on April 2.
“When every single tenth [of a point] counts, there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect,” Nelligan said. “The score doesn’t matter [anymore]. We just have to be cleaner, stick more landings, hit more handstands than our opponents.”
But Maryland will still face its fair share of challenges. With its longest road trip of the season and a change in time zones, Nelligan and his staff have emphasized the importance of self-care to their gymnasts.
“They’re always telling us to get enough rest, stay hydrated and get treatment in, so I think they do very well with those aspects and I think that’ll really help us going into Regionals so that we can perform to the best of our abilities,” freshman Elizabeth DeBarberie said.
And competing on such a big stage for the first time this season does open up other opportunities for distraction during the Tuscaloosa Regional.
The prospect of competing against some of the nation’s top teams is hard to ignore, an opportunity made all the more unique given Maryland’s all-conference schedule up to this point.
“It’s just kind of exciting to see the rest of the NCAA and not just the Big Ten … I just think it’s exciting to see people you don’t normally see,” Barber said.
Barber believes this won’t be a problem in the dual meet against Eastern Michigan, but if the Terps advance, the excitement of the competition-day atmosphere will only grow as the rest of the tournament is conducted in quad meets, doubling the number of teams competing.
But before Nelligan’s group gets to that point, it will need a win on Thursday. Commitment and preparation has fueled the Terps to do just that.
“[Our focus is to] just minimize every deduction we can and find a way to win the first meet. That’s our focus, find a way to win the first meet,” Nelligan said.