By Joe Frescott, Assistant Sports Editor
Gymnastics has made tremendous strides as a program since its inaugural season in 2020-21.
After setting a program record of 195.925 on Saturday, Feb. 18 against Towson, the Sharks made history again this past Sunday, scoring 195.650, which placed them second behind NC State, but was enough to defeat Temple in the tri-meet.
The Sharks were fueled by incredible performances from the likes of Mara Titarsolej and Syd Morris, who both continued their strong seasons on Sunday. Titarsolej, a junior international relations and diplomacy major, scored a meet-best 9.950 on the bars, and Morris, a freshman film major, scored 39.300 on the all-around, topping her previous record of 39.275 that she set against Towson.
Head Coach Randy Lane spoke highly of both athletes.
“Mara Titarsoleji is phenomenal on bars. She just shines every time. We always joke about her getting a 9.950 and the elusive 10 this year that has been a little bit away. We are hoping that will come within the next three weeks and three meets, and hopefully, at the EAGL championship, she can win again,” Lane said. “Syd Morris, our freshman, they have done an incredible job of stepping up and being the all-around that we want. They broke the school record again on the all-around by just a little bit which is always great.”
With the duo leading the Sharks, this marked the first time in program history that the Sharks defeated a conference opponent, as they compete in the highly competitive East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL).
Lane made the significance of this meet clear.
“This was an important meet for us because it is going to help us to see whether we get into regionals as a team or not. Being in the NCAA tournament is really important,” he said. “That is one of my goals and one of the team’s goals. We are gonna have a really hard time over these next few meets to get there, but I believe in this team and feel that we are capable of doing that.”
That wasn’t the only historic moment in Sunday’s meet, however, as the Sharks honored their inaugural Senior class on Senior Day. Draped in flowers and bouquets, Amanda Loo, Katy Koopman, and Nika Takagi were commemorated as the first Sharks to graduate after spending all three years with the program.
Takagi had trouble reflecting on this momentous occasion for the program.
“I don’t think it has hit me yet. It has been a crazy three years, and I am so glad I was able to do it with the team that we have today,” the senior medical imaging major said. “We have made strides over the past few years, and I am just proud of them and had a lot of fun today.”
Coach Lane spoke highly of the inaugural senior class.
“It is always wonderful to have seniors graduate and feel a sense of pride. Honestly, I couldn’t be more proud of those seniors who came and transferred here when we started the program,” the former National Champion said. “They have helped build the culture here of what it is today, and they are a big part of our success so far.”
Loo, a senior business major with a concentration in marketing, reflected on the journey her team has been on these last three seasons.
“Being a new program, I think it is hard knowing our worth because we didn’t have any background stats or anything previously, so I think slowly over time, we have learned that we can play with the big dogs and be as great as anyone else,” she said. “Gymnastics is a sport that is not a contact sport, everything is on you, and anything can happen with scores. There is no one stopping you. This year we realized that we can do anything the other teams are doing. Once we did that, we started focusing on details, and we just started getting better and better.”
Takagi attributes the team’s success to the mindset adopted by the entire program.
“Our keyword these last few years has been progress. In these last three years, all we have wanted to do is progress, progress, progress, and we keep doing that. Just doing our normal gymnastics and doing what we know how to do best. We just continue to do that, and it has been working as we have been beating our records time and time again.”
Outside of the tremendous improvement reflected in the scores since the program was founded, gymnastics has also seen growth in the stands as well, with Sunday’s meet being one of the most attended in the program’s history.
Koopman felt the energy provided by the crowd at the Pratt Recreational Center.
“Personally, the bigger the crowd, the better the performance because you have that many more people behind your back. We know people on every team too, but I feel like gymnastics is a different sport where everybody is friends with everybody, which is really different compared to other sports. I feel like the crowd is finally seeing what we can do, and they are telling their friends to come,” the senior psychology major said. “The crowd gets bigger and bigger every time, and it is gonna keep getting bigger. I think we are all realizing that we are going up from here.”
Loo shared in Koopman’s enthusiasm regarding the fan turnout this year.
“I honestly love performing in front of the crowd, but it is honestly more special when I am
performing in front of my own home crowd. I love doing floor. I love showing off, so being able to look in the crowd and see the faces of all the people I know is so crazy,” she said. “In our little floor routines, we always have an LIU part, and that was the loudest I have ever heard during my floor routine, everyone yelled. It was surreal.”
With four meets remaining, including the EAGL Conference Championships on Saturday, Mar. 18, Koopman feels there is much to look forward to.
“Honestly, the team’s growth is what I am looking forward to because overall, we are growing,” she said. The numbers are way higher than they have ever been, and our team, numbers-wise, is getting better and better. I think that is the biggest thing we have to look forward to this year, that growth and getting better as a team.”
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