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Women's gymnastics takes 2nd in championship

By Catherine Rocchio

Freshman Lisa Arel made MIT sports history last weekend, becoming the first Engineer gymnast ever to win the all-around title at the New England Division III Championships. In addition to this honor, MIT also placed second as a team, losing by only five points to three-time defending champion Salem State College.

Placing second at the meet, which was held at DuPont Gymnasium, was an incredible achievement for the team. They had finished only fourth the previous year with a team score of 121.0 . For the third consecutive meet this season, the Engineers' performance set a new record team score; their newest mark is now 159.7 .

Arel, who finished first on the balance beam and on the uneven bars while coming in second on the vault and third in the floor exercises, wrested the all-around crown away from two-time defending champion Jill Russell of Salem State. Arel's score of 35.45 edged out Russell, who finished first on the vault and the floor exercises, second on the uneven bars, but only fifth on the balance beam, by six tenths of a point. MIT and Salem State have met three times this season, and each time Arel emerged first in the all-around; before this season, Russell had never lost in competition.

MIT led off the meet on the balance beam where Arel's two backhandsprings and full-twisting dismount earned her an 8.7 to take the title of New England Balance Beam Champion. Rose Rocchio '90 and Kortney Leabourne '92 also had beautiful no-fall routines. Rocchio stuck her two backhandsprings for a score of 7.8 while Leabourne performed an innovative jump to immediate backhandspring combination for a score of 7.1 .

The floor exercise was one of the high points in MIT's meet. Arel took third with an Engineer record score of 9.0 , marking the first time an MIT woman earned a 9.0 in any event. Rose Rocchio and Leabourne used their energy on high somersaults in their tumbling passes and powerful leaps and jumps for scores of 8.35 and 8.05 . Rocchio's score earned her sixth place in the event. Allison Arnold '90 and Catherine Rocchio '89 both had clean dance and tumbling, scoring 7.55 and 7.25 .

In the vault, Arel again showed championship form as she earned second place with her handspring full-twisting vault and score of 8.8 . Leabourne performed one of the most spectacular vaults of the meet landing an airborne handspring full-twisting vault for a score of 8.65 which was good for third. Arnold's half-on 11/2-off twisting vault was solidly landed for a score of 8.35, while Rose Rocchio performed a half-on half-off vault for a score of 8.05 . Senior Paula Aqui (7.25) and junior Charlene Grant (7.8) both had their season's highest scores on their handspring vaults.

MIT wrapped up the meet on the uneven bars where the Engineers definitely had their best performance of the season. Arel assured herself of her all-around victory as she swung her way into a New England Championship victory with a score of 8.95 on a flawless bar routine, yet another MIT record on the event. Arnold had yet another beautiful bar routine with two free-hip handstands on the high bar and a straddle back to a handstand over the low bar for a score of 8.45 which earned her fourth place overall in the meet on the event. Leabourne made two cut-catches in a row and stuck a full-twisting dismount for a score of 7.3 . Christine Pao '90 executed a beautiful straddle-back release move over the low bar and stuck her whole routine while Catherine Rocchio also completed her entire routine which included a half-twisting handstand on the low bar for a score of 7.2 .

Overall, MIT has had their best season ever, losing only to Salem State. The team qualified for the Eastern College Athletic Association Championships being held at Trenton State this Saturday. In addition to this first ever honor for the team, Arel has qualified for the national championships being held in Wisconsin the following weekend. Meanwhile, MIT looks forward to closing the gap between themselves and Salem State this weekend if not finally overtaking them.

(Editor's note: Catherine Rocchio '89 is a co-captain of the women's gymnastics team.)