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    April 12, 2022 Milwaukee, Wis. RSS |

    After two years with little to no intercollegiate competition to work toward, Liberty University’s women’s gymnastics team ended the 2021-22 season with a strong showing at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) Championships on Thursday through Saturday at the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee.

    The Lady Flames’ eight gymnasts advanced to finals as a team for the third time, after previously accomplishing that feat in 2017 in Columbus, Ohio, and 2019 in Daytona, Fla. Liberty finished fifth in Level 9, the highest level of competition in the meet, with the majority of programs competing — a combined 2,000-plus men’s and women’s athletes — entered in Levels 7 or 8.

    “This weekend was great,” Lady Flames Head Coach Tim Kappel said. “It raised the morale of the team by a staggering amount and they needed it because, since pre-COVID, we have done nothing but exhibition events, and only a few of our gymnasts went to Ohio State (for a meet this spring). They finally got to see that what we’ve been telling them is true, that competing in these big meets held over three days is a blast, so enjoy yourselves.”

    Penn State was the overall team champion, followed by West Chester, JMU, Rhode Island, and Liberty, which outpointed Connecticut in the finals.

    Individually, sophomore Sophia Boone and senior Audrie Pack both qualified for the All-Around finals, which featured the top 15 Level 9 club gymnasts in the country.

    Senior Shea Whitehurst and sophomore Sophia Boone display their fifth-place medals for balance beam and floor exercise, respectively.

    On the vault, Pack qualified for the finals with her 9.0 mark, while Boone made the cut with her 9.25 performance on the balance beam and 9.2 score on the floor exercise, which she placed fourth and fifth in after the finals. Senior Shea Whitehurst also qualified for finals with her preliminary scores on the beam (9.55, earning fifth place) and floor (9.25), with junior Caitlin Greiner (8.7) and Pack (8.8) also making the beam finals. Complete results are available online.

    “They were nervous, and you could tell both days the nerves were there,” Kappel said. “They wanted to do well because this was it, and they definitely put some pressure on themselves … to do more than they were able. They’ve been working hard in practices, but it has been challenging to keep them motivated, which was not easy without competition. All in all, they honestly did better than could have been expected. Our beam and floor exercise performances were fantastic.”

    He was happy to be able to send out the graduating gymnasts, including Whitehurst, the only senior, with a national competition, and for those who are returning to have that foundation to draw upon for next season. The NAIGC Championships will be moving to Nashville, Tenn., in 2023 and to Albuquerque, N.M., in 2024.

    “We shall see which upperclassmen come back,” said Kappel, who is also losing graduate Assistant Coach Emory Cherry, who has been a tremendous help. “We’ve got a good group of kids coming back and a couple new (commitments) coming in.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer