CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The North Carolina gymnastics team began its season with a victory as they narrowly defeated rival North Carolina State, 194.075 to 193.950, on Sunday afternoon. Junior Haley Watts finished second in the all-around to help lead the Tar Heels.
A crowd of 3,352 gathered in Carmichael Arena to watch the Tar Heels kick off their season at home for the first time in nearly a decade. Carolina won both the uneven bars and floor competitions to help secure the team's highest score ever in a season opener.
"Overall, I'm extremely pleased with our performance," head coach Derek Galvin said. "The energy was great, and everybody gave it everything they had. We looked to make a statement, and now the word is out that this team has got some talent."
Carolina started the meet off strong on vault with a score of 48.575. Sophomore Lexi Cappalli scored a 9.775 to lead the Tar Heels and finish third overall. Not far behind was Watts, with a score of 9.750, and Sarah Peterson, who scored a 9.700. Senior co-captain Michelle Ikoma and freshman Christina Pheil both earned a score of 9.675.
UNC continued on to the uneven bars, where they had their best performance of the day and totaled a score of 49.050. Leading the Tar Heels was Cappalli, who scored a 9.875 to finish first overall, and Acacia Cosentino, who earned a 9.850, to closely follow in second.
For both athletes, the scores were personal bests; but for Cosentino, who hadn't competed in almost two years due to an Achilles' tendon injury, this was a particularly special moment. Following a near perfect dismount, the crowd erupted and her teammates swarmed as she showed that she was back and ready to compete.
"I didn't want to have any regrets, so I just took a deep breath and gave it all I got. When I landed, I was just really excited that I was able to come back and do as well as I did," Cosentino said. "It was a great experience."
Adding to the team's effort on bars was Josselyn Mackey, Watts and Ikoma, each scoring a 9.775, and Megan Marenghi who finished with a 9.750.
On the balance beam, the Tar Heels fought to regain focus. Watts scored an impressive 9.900 to lead the Tar Heels and finish second overall. Following suit was junior Janell Sargent, who totaled a score of 9.825 and finished third overall. Mackey earned a 9.750, and Marenghi contributed with a 9.575. The team finished with an overall score of 48.150.
UNC competed last on the floor exercise, finishing with a score of 48.300. The team struggled to hang on as Cappalli finished first overall with a score of 9.875, and sophomore Christina Pheil added a close 9.850, to finish second overall and round out her first ever collegiate meet. Also contributing for the Tar Heels was Watts with a score of 9.775, and senior Meredith Magjuka with a score of 9.750.
It was an exciting start for Carolina, and it hopes to carry the momentum as they head to Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 17 to compete against NC State, Michigan and Towson at 7 p.m.