NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Given the opportunity to choose this year's motto for this year's team, Yale gymnastics seniors Kiarra Alleyne, Sarah Caldwell, Mary Catherine Fletcher, Roxanne Trachtenberg and Jessica Wang did not falter.
"As a coach, I have had the pleasure of witnessing the girls' maturity from their first-year to last year as a Bulldog. Their growth, as women and gymnasts, is exceptional and I am proud of the example they set in and out of the gym for the rest of the team," said 46th-year head coach Barbara Tonry. "The senior class has led one of the most remarkable and adaptable teams to come through Yale gymnastics, from coaching changes, conditioning additions and an increase in assignment difficulty, they continue to exceed my expectations. All we have done thus far is to build on the legacy of my late husband Don Tonry."
Defending Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) team champions Yale has its sights set high for 2019. The Bulldogs turned in a performance for the ages in 2018, featuring the program's two-time ECAC Championship win, 15th Ivy Classic team title and the highest team score in the history of Yale Gymnastics (195.325). They look to repeat their ECAC and Ivy Classic wins, qualify for NCAA regionals as a team and return to the USA Gymnastics National Championships to earn a spot in team finals.
Last season the Bulldogs dominated, taking home championship team titles, ECAC Assistant Coach of the Year, USAG Collegiate National Head Coach of the Year, qualifying for USAG Collegiate Nationals, earning multiple awards from the ECAC and making their mark in Yale history with more than 50 individual and team record scores.
"The team had an exceptional 2018 season. Though it will be difficult to duplicate, the team is determined to not only repeat our championships, but exceed our results from last year," said Tonry. "We broke an incredible amount of records. Many gymnasts were Ivy League champions, ECAC champions and USA Collegiate National champions. Additionally, we qualified three individuals to the NCAA Regional Championships."
"Kiarra could not have been a better choice for Captain. She has been one of our stronger performers in her three years at Yale and cares deeply for her teammates. She is one of the finest leaders to lead a Yale Gymnastic team," added Tonry.
Building a legacy will look a little different this season. Last year, the team graduated two routines from Megan Ryan and Sloane Smith but the Bulldogs have gained at least 12-14 additional routines heading into the season from the first-years and returners.
"The first-years will be a vital part of our team this year. We have two gymnasts who will join us late, as they are recovering from injuries," said Tonry. "Our returning team members are poised and ready for the challenge of besting last year's accomplishments."
Tonry brought in a stellar first-year class. Newcomers Chia, Cho and Toy all demonstrated their potential during their club gymnastics seasons in 2018. They look forward to adapting to the college competitive environment.
Yale's roster of 19 is loaded with experience entering this season. In addition to the class of 2022, there are a number of routines coming from the Bulldogs' sophomore and junior classes. Yale's sophomores include Jacey Baldovino, Charlotte Cooperman, Alyssa Firth, Isabelle Lee and Rowan Palmer while the junior class includes Jade Buford, Rebecca Chong, Emma Firmstone, Carly Israel, Anna Jennings and Sofia Menemenlis.
One year behind the Bulldog juniors, another class stands poised for breakout seasons following productive first-year campaigns. Eight-time ECAC Honoree, ECAC Rookie of the Year and one of the most decorated gymnasts in Yale history Baldovino returns this season looking to raise the bar from last year's accomplishments. She aims to qualify to NCAA Regionals for the second year in a row and perfect her 9.925 beam score from last season that earned her the Ivy Classic balance beam title. Cooperman is back in action after returning from an injury last season. Despite injury, she came back to be a main contributor on the balance beam, leading the Bulldogs to what would be the highest team beam score in school history (49.05). Lookout for all-around competitor Firth as she is a consistent lead-off for the Bulldogs on all four events. Lee will be coming back from an injury and looking to make the uneven bar lineup. Palmer looks to show her grace and precision in the balance beam lineup once again this season.
All of the Bulldogs' returning juniors competed in the lineup in at least one event last season and are looking for more this upcoming season. Two-time Ivy Classic all-around champion and ECAC Gymnast of the Year Buford will be focused on returning to NCAA Regionals this season as an all-arounder as well as working to defend her Ivy Classic title. Menemenlis and Israel have earned WCGA all-academic honors twice already during their Yale careers and look forward to adding their beam and vault scores to the team all-around. Following an impressive sophomore season, Firmstone looks to continue her all-around efforts and up her rankings in the beam and floor lineup. Jennings aims to make USAG National vault finals as well as return into the floor lineup and strive to earn her spot on beam too. After an incredible season on vault, Chong intends to earn the top spot at USAG Nationals on vault as well as return to the floor lineup. All six have the potential to be great competitors this season.
The Bulldog senior class looks to contribute their solid performances once again for one last season. Watch out for Captain Alleyne dancing it out with a new floor routine this season as well as earning her spot in beam lineup. Trachtenberg continues to add depth to the bars and vault lineup. She has been quite a consistent presence since her first-year. Former USAG National bars champion Wang is excited to give it her all during her final season as a Bulldog. She aims to qualify to NCAA Regionals for the second year in a row and defend her National title in April. Fletcher rounds out the senior class and her sights are set on bars lineup.
"As seniors, we are incredibly invested in the success of this team because of the extreme growth we have seen throughout the past four years. Each year, we break more records and add more team titles. We hope to continue to build that legacy this year!" said the senior class.
With several options, Collins said he is proud of the team's preseason dedication and feels the team has depth for each event. The Bulldogs will face a tough schedule filled with high-profile teams and quality competition. Yale will be challenged from the start, beginning its season opener with a quad meet against Bridgeport, Rutgers of the Big 10, and SCSU at Bridgeport Jan. 12 at 5 p.m. This will be a great chance to see the class of 2022 -- Chia, Cho and Toy -- in action for the first time.
Yale will host four meets at the John J. Lee Amphitheater (JLA). The Bulldogs will kick off their home campaign when they host the annual dual meet against Penn on Jan. 19 at 1 p.m. Yale's other non-conference home meet against New Hampshire is the weekend of Jan. 27 at 1 p.m. The Bulldogs will take part in a quad meet with Bridgeport, Springfield and SCSU for the Don Tonry Invitational in Feb. 2 at 12 p.m. The meet honors and celebrates the legacy of Don Tonry, a prominent figure in Yale gymnastics history. Yale travels to George Washington Feb. 8 after hosting three back-to-back competitions. Following the weekend away, the Bulldogs will host senior day in JLA at 1 p.m. on Jan. 17 in a matchup with Ivy rival Brown. They will recognize the seniors for their accomplishments and dedication to Yale gymnastics in their last meet at home as Bulldogs.
Hosted by Penn, the Ivy Classic takes place Feb. 24 at 1 p.m. The team will then take off to Penn State for a quad meet with Arizona and Cornell on Mar. 2. A week later, Yale will travel to New Hampshire for a dual meet on Mar. 8. Next, the Bulldogs will take on the west coast in another quad competition with nationally-ranked competitors Illinois, UC Davis and Washington on Mar. 15.
Yale will enter into postseason at ECAC Championships that will be held at Cornell on Mar. 23 in New York. The Bulldogs took home the title last season and are in high hopes of defending their Championship.
Finally, the Bulldogs will wrap up postseason with the USA Collegiate National Championships that will take place close by at Bridgeport from Apr. 13-15.
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report by Anna Jennings '20, Yale Sports Publicity