Updated: Jan. 16, 2018 at 10:33 p.m.
With two meets under its belt, gymnastics is taking an aggressive approach to the 2018 season.
After winning the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championship for the second time in program history and making a third consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance last season, the No. 25 Colonials said they will not be satisfied with a repeat performance.
“We’re not defending our EAGL championship, we’re staying on the offense and really pushing to beat our scores from last year and make it to nationals,” senior Sara Mermelstein said.
GW was selected to win the conference title again in 2018 in a preseason coaches’ poll released in December. With high expectations, the Colonials are planning to take more risks to surpass last season’s program-best postseason score of 195.625 at the Morgantown Regional.
“We’re trying to elevate our difficulties, so you’re seeing a little bit of mistakes here and there because they’re more difficult,” head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham said. “But if we want to get better we have to do that, so I’m really happy with how we put the risk out there and it’s working for us.”
In GW’s first two meets of the season, the team’s use of more challenging skills has led to individual victories in both competitions.
On Sunday, the Colonials won the Lindsey Ferris Invitational at the Smith Center for the sixth consecutive year, defeating three other teams with a team score of 195.325 – 3.550 points higher than second-place Ball State.
Seniors Jillian Winstanley (39.425), Cami Drouin-Allaire (39.400) and Alex Zois (38.900) came in first, second and third place, respectively, in the all-around competition. Zois’ total matched her career-high.
GW finished with the top two spots in all four of the meet’s events.
The Colonials’ performance was an improvement from their first event of the year at Kentucky Jan. 5. They competed in front of a sold-out crowd of about 10,000 people and placed third out of four teams with a total score of 193.775.
Drouin-Allaire finished with the outing’s best all-around mark at 39.100.
“We’ve never started our season like that before and so just getting out there and feeling that energy and feeling that big of a crowd,” Winstanley said. “It was a cool way to kick things off.”
Before GW’s home opener this weekend, 2017 graduates Chelsea Raineri and Alex DeMoura helped reveal the team’s new championship banner hanging in the Smith Center rafters.
Last season, Drouin-Allaire and Raineri competed at the National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships. Drouin-Allaire, who previously qualified for the event in 2015, was the first gymnast in program history to make repeat appearances at the national level.
This year, the senior said she wants the rest of her teammates to join her at the national competition.
“It would be an honor to make it to nationals individually, but it would be even greater for the entire team to be there and share that experience with everybody that worked just as hard to be there,” Drouin-Allaire said.
Without classes to worry about over winter break, the gymnasts said they have been able to spend more time brushing up on routines and honing in on events on which they normally don’t have as much time to focus.
Despite losing four gymnasts – including Raineri, who was nominated for the 2017 NCAA Woman of the Year, and DeMoura – to graduation last spring, the Colonials welcome back 11 returners and seven rookies to the roster. With seven seniors around to guide the newcomers in the coming months, the team has time to grow and improve as the season progresses.
“Chelsea and Alex were amazing leaders. And you don’t really realize how good they are until they’re no longer with us. And so our captains this year are really stepping up,” Foster-Cunningham said. “Because we have a huge freshman class, they need a lot of leadership.”
Last week, Foster-Cunningham said she took the squad axe throwing in an effort to build team chemistry and get her team out of its comfort zone.
Next Sunday, the Colonials will travel to West Virginia to compete against the No. 16 ranked Mountaineers.