Liberty gymnasts excel at JMU, Penn State meets
February 24, 2013 | State College, Pa.
At Sunday's Nittany Classic hosted by Penn State University, Liberty University's gymnastics team competed against some of the same schools it expects to see again at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs championship meet in Minneapolis.
Besides host Penn State, Liberty went head-to-head against gymnasts from Rhode Island, Eastern Michigan, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Slippery Rock, and MIT.
Flames head coach Rachel Steele said the team showed definite progress from the previous Saturday's Duke Dog Classic hosted by James Madison University.
"Absolutely," she said. "They made some big improvements (against) much better competition. Probably the best competition in the nation was there. I would say it would be like what we're going to see at finals at nationals."
That included some girls who would be competing at the NCAA Division I level had their schools not been forced to drop those programs due to Title IX.
Individually, for Liberty's women, Jennybeth Nicklow and Jill Wippermann placed second and third, respectively, on the beam while Steve Lucia finished first in the floor exercise for the men with a score of 13.9.
"They looked really great," Steele said, noting the women's places were not based on scoring since there were no official judges on hand. "Jill was excellent on beam. We had a lot more hit routines, where they don't fall, than we've had in the past."
She thought Nicklow should have placed in the floor exercise.
"We had some really great performances on floor for the girls, from Alyssa Frost and Jennybeth and Jill," Steele said. "Jennybeth really excelled. If the scoring would have been more accurate, she would have scored on floor. Her floor routine was wonderful, completely flawless. They only announced the top three and, not to be biased, but she should have gotten first place. I think everyone was in agreement with that."
However, she said placement wasn't as important to her as execution for this competition.
"We weren't focused on scores (Sunday)," Steele said. "We were focusing on performance and we were really happy with how we did."
At JMU last weekend, Lucia finished first on floor and third in the all-around, while Nicklow placed second on the beam and third on the floor and Frost was third all-around, based on her performances on the vault, uneven bars, beam, and floor.
Before heading to nationals, set for April 11-13 at the Minneapolis Convention Center, Liberty is planning to host a competition in March, though Steele hasn't nailed down the specifics as of yet.
"There are a lot of loopholes you've got to jump through to host a competition as far as inviting judges," she said, adding that she plans to invite teams from JMU, Virginia, North Carolina, N.C. State, and Tennessee.
She said the home event would be designed "just to put a little pressure on us so we can be ready to go (to nationals)," Steele said.
With no qualifying standards, Liberty has sent multiple gymnasts to compete at the national level the last couple years. Steele plans to carry a team of eight women plus two individuals as well as Lucia, the team's lone men's gymnast.
Four of Liberty's women's scores in each event count toward the team score at nationals.
"We have a lot of new girls this year, so that's exciting," she said.