CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The North Carolina gymnastics team lost a close battle last night to EAGL opponent Towson on its Senior Night and final home meet of the season. Although the Tar Heels fell just half of a point shy to Towson, 193.100 to 193.050, the focus was on seniors Michelle Ikoma and Meredith Magjuka who both performed- and placed- in Carmichael Arena for the last time.
Last night, Feb. 28, was a special night in Carmichael, where the 2014 Tar Heel gymnastics team had yet to be beaten. It was the team's last home meet of the year and the last time Ikoma and Magjuka would make an appearance on their home floor, in front of their home crowd.
"The atmosphere tonight was incredible. The crowd was great, and we love having our friends and families come out to support us. The pep band, the cheerleaders, everything...helped make it a lot easier for us to stay focused on our team," said senior co-captain Magjuka.
Ikoma added, "We always enjoy competing in front of a home crowd. It makes it so much easier for us to do what we do, and words can't express how much I've appreciated the community's support throughout my entire career here."
Both seniors placed in their respective events against Towson, earning spots on the podium. Magjuka, a fifth-year senior from Greenwood, Ind., placed second on balance beam with a score of 9.725, tying UNC freshman Megan Marenghi. Magjuka also competed on floor where she struggled a bit with a more difficult routine, but managed to earn a 9.050.
Ikoma, originally from Naperville, Ill. and also a fifth-year senior, has been out the past few weeks with an ankle injury, however managed to fight back in order to make one last appearance in Carmichael. Ikoma only competed on the uneven bars, where she scored a 9.775 to place third, tying with teammates Jocelyn Mackey and Acacia Cosentino.
"It was such a special moment to get out there and compete one last time [in Carmichael]," said Ikoma. "For a while, we weren't sure if I was going to get that opportunity; But I did, and I took it all in."
North Carolina's third senior, Emily Cornwell, had been a strong competitor for the Heels, particularly as a specialist on the uneven bars, for the past three years. Unfortunately, she suffered an injury that was not diagnosed until the end of last summer, and the recovery process was too long for her to compete her final year. Cornwell has stepped in as a student assistant coach and has helped encourage the team tremendously.
"The seniors have meant a lot to our program over the past four and five years, and I'm proud of all three of them. We've been fortunate to have Meredith and Michelle as leaders within the team, and help from Emily behind the scenes. And beyond what they've each accomplished in the gym, they have all excelled academically...and I think their legacy will establish a new standard for young women coming into our program in the future," said head coach Derek Galvin.
To recap Friday's meet, North Carolina began its first rotation on vault. Sarah Peterson started off strong for the Heels, earning a 9.700. Lexi Cappalli competed next and posted a 9.525, Kristin Aloi followed with a 9.550 and Haley Watts contributed another 9.700 score. Mackey scored a 9.575 and Margaret Brown a 9.075. The team totaled a 48.050 heading in to the second rotation.
The Tar Heels next headed to the uneven bars, where they had their greatest performance of the night, sweeping first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth place. Freshman Marenghi took first place overall with a new personal best of 9.850. Watts followed suit with a 9.800 to place second. Ikoma, Mackey and Cosentino all scored a 9.775 to earn a three-way tie for third place. Cappalli posted a 9.750 to tie with Towson's Bailey Gallagher for sixth place. The Heels combined for a score of 97.025.
On balance beam, Janell Sargent led the Heels. Always consistent, Sargent scored a 9.850 to tie her personal best and place first for her third consecutive meet. Just behind Sargent was Marenghi and Magjuka, each scoring a 9.725 to tie for second place. Cappalli's routine earned a 9.700 to help the Heels, while Mackey scored a 9.575 and Watts a 9.250. While there is still room for improvement, the Heels outscored the Tigers on beam 48.575 to 48.200. Heading into the fourth and final rotation, both team scores were close.
UNC took the floor where it, unfortunately, did not perform to its potential. The Heels suffered two uncharacteristic falls as a couple athletes struggled to maintain balance. Cappalli posted a 9.100, Magjuka a 9.050 and Peterson an 8.725. However, Watts and Aloi both executed strong routines, each scoring a 9.850 to tie for first place and help lift the team. Cosentino also performed well, scoring a 9.600.
In the end, the effort just was not enough. Towson earned nearly an entire point higher as a team on its floor exercise, and so the Tigers finished just ahead of the Tar Heels, 193.100 to 191.050. Watts tied Towson's Samantha Lutz for third place in the all-around with a combined score of 38.600, while Cappalli finished fifth with a 38.075.
"While we had some good individual performances, we did not perform well as a team on floor or on vault. On bars and beam, I think we're there," said Galvin. "But I need to do a better job at preparing this team and figure out what we need to do differently heading into the remainder of the season."
The Tar Heels will be back in the gym on Monday to train, refocus and prepare for their next meet at Pittsburgh on Friday, March 7 at 7 p.m.
"Stay tuned. There's still a lot more to come from Carolina gymnastics," said Magjuka herself.