Maryland gymnastics’ bars unit has posted inconsistent scores throughout the 2023 season. Now ranked No. 23 on the event, the Terps have taken a step back from last season’s No. 13 finish.
But Sunday, sophomore Sierra Kondo’s 9.925 led the rotation, and coach Brett Nelligan’s squad posted a 49.275, their fourth highest of the 2023 season.
Kondo, an “underrated” force per Nelligan, displayed immense artistry on the uneven bars, floating naturally from the high bar to the low bar in a shoot-over. To finish, Kondo perfected a double layout off the high bar down to the mat in a curved layout position, sticking a flawless routine.
The sophomore’s success was assisted by Aleka Tsiknias’ 9.875 to anchor the rotation.
But it wasn’t until the team’s third meet when they cracked over the 49.000 mark against Michigan State, earning the team’s season high 49.350. Maryland scored 48.925 and 48.850 in its first two outings.
“Bars is actually one of our best events, so tonight, we just got a little tight,” Nelligan said following Sunday’s 48.900 bars score. “We made a few mental errors but that just tells you how good of a team we are.”
Without the likes of Audrey Barber, who averaged 9.862 on the uneven bars in 2022, the Terps needed to find someone to step up and lead the unit to a consistent routine. Barber, Maryland’s all-time scoring leader, routinely displayed elegant lines from bar-to-bar and quick transitions off each release skill.
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Barber, Elizabeth DeBarberie, Kondo, Emma Silberman and Tsiknias led the bars lineup in 2022 and each competed on a regular basis.
After competing on bars in five meets in 2022 and averaging 9.770 as freshman Rhea LeBlanc now leads off for Nelligan’s squad in 2023.
LeBlanc has led off every meet for the Terps this season, averaging 9.702 in her sophomore season. Her routine starts on the high bar, nailing a cast handstand into a highflying pike jaeger. A shoot-over down to the low bar and a jump back up to the high bar caps off her routine.
On the opposite end, Tsiknias has anchored the unit all season long, averaging a score of 9.831. The senior saw action on the uneven bars in every meet she’s competed in over the course of her career. In 2022, Tsiknias averaged 9.844 on the event.
Tsiknias’ high score in 2023, 9.925, was earned at the Temple Quad. Her routine is the same as Leblanc’s, but rather than completing a pike jaeger, Tsiknias executes a straddle jaeger. Her ability to squeeze her legs between skills and float between each bar makes her a key reason the Terps are able to score greater than a 49.000.
Silberman averages 9.750, falling from last season’s average of 9.800. Kondo averages 9.744, also below last season’s 9.806.
[Maryland gymnastics places second at GW Meet with 195.700]
DeBarberie, who hasn’t competed in the previous four meets on the event, is one of the only returning Terps to average a higher score than last year at 9.725 — a slight increase from 2022’s 9.700.
“I know that we all have the utmost confidence in each person in that lineup but when one person falls or messes up a little bit, we know that each person in the lineup will be able to come back and kill the next person up,” Silberman said.
Sophomore transfer Victoria Gatzendorfer averaged 9.788 on the uneven bars. Now as a Terp, she averages 9.725. Due to DeBarberie’s absence, Tasha Brozowski joined the lineup at the Temple Quad. Her four meets of experience earned her an average of 9.825.
The key to success on bars is nailing perfect vertical cast handstands, catching the bar between releases and sticking a perfect dismount. The Terps consistently display strong routines to seize control of each bar and often stick the dismount, but often exhibit minor format errors.
Now inching closer to the postseason, Nelligan’s team has scored below a 49.000 in two of its last five meets. Nelligan hopes by the time the Big Ten tournament rolls around, his team can put the pieces together.
“Once we put a complete meet together, four events, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat,” Nelligan said.