Note: N.C. State was originally supposed to compete at this meet but withdrew on Jan. 3 due to COVID protocols.
Hello from Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill! Can I tell you how absolutely thrilled I am to be kicking off my season coverage at this meet? Not only is tonight Danna Durante’s long-awaited return to college coaching, but it also marks the collegiate debut of Olympic all-around champion Sunisa Lee. How cool is that?!
All eyes will understandably be on Lee (who’s expected to compete on bars and beam tonight), but her classmate Sara Hubbard has a powerful Yurchenko one and a half that earned multiple perfect 10s during her level 10 career and made CGN’s list of Most Anticipated Level 10 Freshmen on Vault. Freshman Sophia Groth is another one to watch; she competed all-around at the Tigers’ December intrasquad, but really shines on beam. She’s slated for three events tonight, everything but bars.
North Carolina has an exciting freshman class of its own led by former five-star recruit Lali Dekanoidze. The four-time Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier notched nine scores on last year’s top 100, including a massive 39.200 in the all-around. Expect her to be a top contributor for the Tar Heels right from the get-go. Also keep an eye out for Julia Knower. The 2019 level 10 champion on beam will fit right in alongside Elizabeth Culton.
Bowling Green, meanwhile, has a massive crop of newcomers this season, including Dahlia Solorzano-Caruso. The junior transfer earned multiple conference and USAG All-America honors and won the 2021 USAG national all-around title during her time at SEMO. Her experience combined with the added depth across the board could be exactly what the Falcons need to improve on last year’s results.
Rotation 1: UNC vault, Auburn bars, BGSU floor
Summey (UNC): Leg sep on the preflight, but a big Y full basically stuck. Great start. A well-deserved 9.825
Shinohara (UNC): Another BIG Y full with just a hop back. The entire team ran over to celebrate. 9.800
Thompson (UNC): Yet another huge Y full. Small hop back. This is the cleanest of the bunch so far. 9.800
Knower (UNC): …and another high, clean Y full with a hop back. Tar Heels getting the job done. 9.775
Dekanoidze (UNC): And here we go! Huge Y 1.5 with a step forward. Knees were a little soft 9.825
Shearer (UNC): Y tucked full. Blocks a little sideways off the table and ends up off the mat.
Weil (UNC): Exhibition. Great FHS pike. Soft knees, but absolutely stuck cold.
Sabados (Auburn): Big Tkatchev. Lost a little form on the bail, but nothing dire. DLO with a tiny foot shuffle. 9.750
Stevens (Auburn): Lots of crisp handstands. DLO a bit pikey, but a definitive stick. 9.675
Watson (Auburn): Fabulous Ray. Good tension on her bail. High FTDT, drilled the landing. Great routine for Watson. 9.675
Brusch (Auburn): Gorgeous bail, tight body position. Handstands great throughout. Perfect archy DLO with a small bounce back. 9.800
Lee (Auburn): Blind change to gorgeous piked Jaeger. Perfect Pak to handstand. Floats the VL and a stuck FTDT. 9.775 seems low, though admittedly I don’t have a great angle.
Gobourne (Auburn): HUGE Ray with some flexed feet. Gorgeous Pak. Fell out of her half pirouette a little. FTDT landed deep but a stick. 9.825
Chan (BGSU): The SPU transfer is kicking off the Falcons’ floor rotation. Punch Rudi to a floaty loso, well done. Switch half to a wolf 1.5, good amplitude.
McNamara (BGSU): Back 1.5 to front lay, well done. A little shy of 180 on her leap series. Undercuts the final double tuck, but manages to keep her hands up.
Castiglia (BGSU): Sorry, missed the first half due to various wandering personnel! Front full with soft knees to front pike to close. 9.650
Weilbacher (BGSU): Front tuck through to double tuck, excellent landing. Seeing a smile after that pass. Switch half to wolf 1.5, well done. Ooh, love the back spin to techno music. Big double pike to close. Great debut for the freshman! 9.775
Harsch (BGSU): Ouch, misses the punch out of her bhs and falls on her back double twist. Seems to be OK, thank goodness. Fhs full to front pike looks good. Back 1.5 to front lay pretty short, but she muscles up the landing and avoids another fall.
Jenson (BGSU): You’d think six routines in I’d be used to the shrieking falcon noise, but I’m not! Fhs double full, slightly underrotated but covers it nicely. Great position on her Popa series. Back 1.5 to front lay with good rise, bounces out of the landing a bit, but a really nice routine. The choreo is very dark and dramatic, and she sells it beautifully.
Have the scores stopped updating for everyone else or is it just me?
AFTER ONE ROTATION: UNC 49.025, Auburn 48.825, BGSU 48.5725
Kicking of the season with a 49+ on vault isn’t a bad way to kick off the Danna Durante era, non? The Heels are oozing confidence and readiness, and the proof is in the scores.
Auburn had a lot of really great moments on bars, but all those tiny breaks add up (particularly when being scored by the less forgiving EAGL judges).
BGSU Is a lot of fun on floor. The lineup’s routine construction is really smart, and plays well to the gymnast’s strengths. Jenson’s was the standout for me.
Rotation 2: BGSU vault, UNC bars, Auburn beam
Harsch (BGSU): Powerful Y tucked full to open the rotation. Medium sized hop back, but good start.
McNamara (BGSU): Y full with some split legs in the air and a large step back. Great amplitude, though.
Weilbacher (BGSU): Great Y full, a little piked and a bounce back.
Jensen (BGSU): HUGE Y full with a small shuffle on the landing, best of the bunch.
Shearer (UNC): Straddled Jaeger a hair close, but she works through it. Great handstand positions and a well-controlled DLO.
Knower (UNC): Great gienger with a little leg sep on the regrasp. Love how crisp her bail is. High FTDT, close to the high bar and a step back.
Thompson (UNC): PERFECT piked Deltchev. High FTDT… Ugh, she fell back and grabbed her knee.
Dekanoidze (UNC): Maloney to bail, excellent. Missed the landing on her DLO because the whole team was jumping up and down, but it was great in the air.
Schaefer (UNC): Huge straddled Jaeger. Clear hip to bail, lost a little body shape but nothing major. Gorgeous stuck FTDT.
Culton (UNC): Straddled Jaeger, no problems. Textbook handstands throughout. Perfect bail. Staldter giant into double tuck, stuck. Beautiful.
Brusch (Auburn): Gorgeous front aerial to split. Bhs loso, calm and cool. Switch leap to switch side, good position on both. Stuck gainer full. Great lead-off. 9.850
Oldham (Auburn): Rock solid bhs loso. Cat leap to side aerial with a step, covered it well though, Switch half and comes off, too bad.
Hollingsworth (Auburn): Pretty full turn. Bhs loso, great. Side aerial to full, nice job.
Lee (Auburn): Double wolf turn, obviously perfect. Front aerial to bhs, lovely. Switch leap to switch half, a hair short on the latter. Bhs side gainer with a hop in place. Fantastic debut for the champ. 9.875
McLaughlin (Auburn): Bhs loso with soft knees and a hip check. Cat leap to side aerial, very nice. Switch leap to switch side, a little slow but should get the connection. Piked gainer, stuck.
Stevens (Auburn): Bhs loso with a slight hip check. Split jump to double stag to beat, good. Does the Stevens well. Back 1.5 with a forward hop to finish. One of her better beam sets. 9.900
AFTER TWO ROTATIONS: UNC 98.025, Auburn 97.975, BGSU 97.250
Who had UNC leading after two? The Tar Heels look sharp and managed to stayed focused after Thompson’s injury.
Auburn had a great beam rotation (I mean, I’m assuming since I still don’t have scores…).
Rotation 3: BGSU bars, UNC beam, Auburn floor
Muir (BGSU): Only caught the end, but she did a very nice stuck double tuck dismount. 9.225
Bannister (BGSU): Lost her legs on the Tkatchev, but powered through to a good bail. Again, lost form on her full pirouette, but a nice double back. 9.300
Bornhorn (BGSU): Loses steam and comes off on her straddled Jaeger, too bad. 8.250
Goldstrum (BGSU): Blind change to straddled Jaeger, good. Falls backwards on her bail, but covers with a sole circle. Double tuck with chest low and a step forward.
Men(BGSU): Ouch, catches her heel on her Tkatchev, but doesn’t seem bothered. Another near fall on the bail, but saves it. Nice double tuck to finish.
Summey (UNC): Bhs loso, solid. Really nice straddle 3/4. Comes off on a side aerial. Will be interested to see how the rest of the lineup responds.
Dekanoidze (UNC): Switch leap to side aerial, rock solid. Kicks out her full turn. Bhs loso with soft knees, but well-controlled. Split leap to split jump, good position. MASSIVE back double twist, stuck. 9.850
Nam (UNC): Excellent bhs loso. Switch leap to switch side, great. Cat leap to side aerial; misses her right foot and just worked through it, no problem. Stuck back 1.5. So far, so good! 9.800
Knower (UNC): Gorgeous front toss. Switch leap to switch side, great. Back 1.5, definitively stuck and a double fist pump from the freshman. 9.925
Culton (UNC): Bhs to floaty loso with a slight waver. Split leap to switch side, good position. Leg up on the front aerial. Side aerial to full with a small hop. 9.650
Greenlow (UNC): Bhs loso, solid. Cat leap to side somi with a waist bend, but saves it. Missed her foot on the RO, but somehow stuck the back 1.5 and did NOT hit the beam, thank goodness. 9.650
Hubbard (Auburn): Big FTDT to open with a step out of bounds. Back 1.5 to front lay, great. 9.600
Oldham (Auburn): High double pike to open. This music and choreo suit her style really well; reminiscent of Livvy Dunne’s elite FX. Tidy double tuck to finish. 9.600
Groth (Auburn): Back 1.5 to front lay, lots of power. Clean back double twist, very nice. 9.850
Stevens (Auburn): Front lay to Rudi, good. Another Stevens, always fun. Big double tuck to finish. Couldn’t see the leap series. Nice routine from her. 9.850
Brusch (Auburn): Big double back to open, one foot OOB. Massive double pike; overcooks just a little and has to lift her foot. Glad to see her back on the floor; this is a really fun, energetic routine that suits her well. 9.750
Gobourne (Auburn): This is probably the routine I’ve been most excited about seeing tonight. Ridiculous double tuck, no hands. Good amplitude on the wolf full. Fhs full to front lay, (intentionally) dances out of it. Stuck double pike to close. OK, Derrian Gobourne 10.0 Watch 2022 is officially on! She was really milking the landings, basically letting the judges know, “I’m in complete control at all times.” Awesome routine. 9.875, so basically an EAGL 10.
AFTER THREE ROTATIONS: UNC and Auburn 146.900, BGSU 144.125
A rocky beam rotation for UNC, but they did a great job of powering through and staying cool. The freshmen were outstanding!
Auburn’s floor is always fun, and this season is no exception. Gobourne is the anchor for a reason, but I really like Hubbard in the lead-off spot.
Rotation 4: Auburn vault, BGSU beam, UNC floor
Waslh (Auburn): Y full, slightest pike down and nearly stuck. 9.875
Groth (Auburn): Good height on her Y full, small step back. 9.825
Stevens (Auburn): Gorgeous Y full with the tiniest hop back. Jeff Graba was standing next to me and said, “Oh! Wow!” Same, Coach. Same. 9.825
Hubbard(Auburn): Y 1.5 a little messy in the air, but excellent distance and a step forward. 9.875
Watson (Auburn): Nails her Y 1.5. Probably the best I’ve ever seen from her. 9.950 is absolutely correct. Excellent vault.
Gobourne (Auburn): Another gorgeous Y 1.5 in the air with a couple steps forward. 9.875
Glenn (Auburn): exhibition Y full was basically perfect. Really fantastic, lots of hugs from the team.
Castiglia (BGSU): Front aerial to bhs with some legs. Beautiful front toss to beat. Switch leap to straddle 3/4, well done. Punch full with a small forward hop. Nice routine to open. 9.750
Chan (BGSU): bhs loso with a little waver, but holds on. Side aerial again with a small waver. Good amplitude on her pike to straddle 3/4, but comes off. Too bad. 8.950
Ross (BGSU): Bhs loso with soft legs, but really solid. Cat leap to front aerial to Sissone, well done. Side aerial to 1.5, again some form but a great landing. Well done. 9.650
Weilbacher (BGSU): Bhs loso with knee form, but absolutely solid. Finishes up with a double back, wow! She’s another freshman who’s impressed today. 9.725
Harsch (BGSU): Kicked out full turn. Soft knees on her bhs loso, but solid. Didn’t quite get the position on her leaps. 9.675
Jensen (BGSU): bhs loso with a leg up, but very clean in the air. Cat leap to side aerial with a hip check. Stuck 1.5 dismount, very nice.
Nam (UNC): Double pike landed deep, but hangs onto it. Her parents are behind me chanting her name, and I love it! Fhs Rudi, very well done. Back 1.5 front lay to finish, good. 9.775
Greenlow (UNC): Fantastic double pike to open. Switch half to wolf full, good position. Back 2.5 with a crossover step. Fhs full to front lay, gorgeous. 9.825
St. Brice (UNC): Really nice back 2.5 opening pass. Didn’t quite hit the position on her wolf full, but Popa looked great. Double pike with chest low, but hangs onto the landing. 9.575
Dekanoidze (UNC): Gorgeous double tuck, great landing. Switch ring, good. Has to finesse the landing on her front double twist. Perfect fhs full to front lay. Great all around debut for her. 9.775
Culton (UNC): Lovely double tuck. Front lay to front full, riiiight to the edge, but stays in. Swtich ring to switch side, nice. Front lay to Rudi, good control.
Knower (UNC): BIG double pike that bounces OOB. Really clean fhs full to front lay. Switch full series, lovely. Underrotates her final double tuck but keeps her hands up. Another great freshman debut!
AFTER FOUR ROTATIONS: Auburn 196.300, UNC 195.700, BGSU, 192.600
Vault: Drew Watson (Auburn) 9.950
Bars: Lali Dekanoidze and Isabelle Schaefer (UNC) 9.875
Beam: Julia Knower (UNC) 9.925
Floor: Derrian Gobourne (Auburn) and Taylor Jensen (BGSU) 9.875
AA: Lali Dekanoidze (UNC) 39.325
Auburn’s SID Kendra Willard just told me this is highest season opener in a decade! Not too shabby, especially given the aforementioned tight scoring. The Tigers have definitely put the rest of the SEC on notice.
Speaking of, what a phenomenal debut for the Tar Heels! UNC’s SID Lauren Staffer said it’s the highest opening score in program history. Coach Durante and ACs Marie Denick and Amelia Hundley seem to have a great thing going here. There were a few rough patches on beam and floor, but this is definitely a team to watch.
We didn’t get see Solorzano-Caruso on the floor tonight, but the Falcons’ freshman Kathryn Weilbacher made quite an impression. Also, junior Taylor Jensen shared the floor title with Auburn’s Derrian Gobourne, and deservedly so!
Live blog by Claire Billman
Like what you see? Consider donating to support our efforts throughout the year!