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Three Women Gymnasts Compete at Nationals

By Catherine Rocchio

While the average MIT student was busily preparing to head off on a week long vacation for Spring Break two weeks ago, three members of the women's gymnastics team headed off to Philadelphia to compete in the Division III National Gymnastics Championships. Janet Sollod '96 was making a return appearance at the tournament after competing in last year's event while rookie standouts Sheila Rocchio '97 and Tasi Chiarenza '97 were making their debut.

The meet, hosted by Ursinus College, boasted competitors from across the nation with teams from Minnesota and Wisconsin dominating the field. Both Rocchio and Sollod qualified into the meet as all-arounders (competing on all four events). Chiarenza, suffering from a recently torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, was forced to decline her all-around berth to compete on the uneven bars only.

The meet on Friday highlighted the best performances from these women of the entire season. Sollod, rotating with the team from University of Wisconsin at River Falls, scored a 9.0 on the floor exercise for her beautiful full-twisting layout and outstanding flexibility and dance. She was awarded a personal best score of 8.75 on her full-twisting handspring vault. She also stuck a gorgeous beam routine 8.75 on her full-twisting handspring vault and stuck a gorgeous beam routine that included a backhandspring, a back-extension to handstand, and difficult twisting jumps for a score of 8.6.

Uneven bars, usually a strong point for Sollod, gave her a bit of trouble as she missed one of her combination moves and took a 0.6 deduction for the omission. Nonetheless, she stood up her one-and-a-half somersaulting dismount and capped off an outstanding season with her bar score of 7.5 and all-around total of 33.75 that left her ranked 16th in the nation overall. Sollod just missed qualifying for the finals round on the balance beam by only 0.05.

Rocchio began her meet on the balance beam where she was seeded in the gold medal position. After sticking a gorgeous and difficult backhandspring back layout tumbling series and difficult side switch leg leap, she suffered an unexpected fall on her backhandspring straddle jump that cost her 0.5 for a score of 8.6.

Swallowing back her disappointment, Rocchio went on to the floor exercise where she landed a rocketing high double back somersault (one of only two in the entire competition). Buoyed by the crowd's enthusiasm, she finished in winning form earning a 9.3 and qualifying for the finals round in 6th place. Rocchio scored an 8.75 on her handspring double front despite a low landing and moved on to the last event of uneven bars in an excellent position to place in the all-around.

Uneven bars, typically Rocchio's most troublesome event, finally reflected all of her hard work. Finishing a free-hip to handstand with a half pirouette, a straddle back and several giant swings, Rocchio finally landed her one-and-a-half somersaulting dismount with near perfection, taking only a few extra steps, for a score of 8.7. Her season's highest all-around total of 35.35 earned her fifth place overall and an all-American title, while her bars performance qualified her into the finals competition as well.

Chiarenza, trying to salvage her season despite her serious injury, was fortunately able to compete on the uneven bars as long as she did not dismount with any weight borne by her right knee. Chiarenza, ranked second overall in the nation on bars before her injury, rose to the difficult task and swung a toe on handstand, a giant full twist to a giant half twist, and an underswing to handstand before she dismounted with a simple underswing, landing balanced on one leg. Her score of 8.85 despite the 0.2 deduction for not having a difficult enough dismount, qualified her into finals in 5th place.

The finals competition was held the following day with the top 12 competitors in each event vying for the all-American titles bestowed upon the top 6 performers in each event.

Rocchio, competing first on uneven bars, performed outstandingly once again and topped off the performance with a perfectly-landed dismount for a score of 8.7. Chiarenza, despite missing her full-twisting pirouette after her second giant, improvised her routine with a hop change and determinedly hung on to score an 8.7 as well. Chiarenza's combined scores of 17.55 earned her 5th place, and Rocchio's 17.4 landed her in 6th with both MIT gymnasts receiving all-American status for their performances. Rocchio, competing on the floor exercise as well, landed an even stronger double back than the day before and received another score of 9.3, which was the 6th highest score of the day. Combined with her score from the previous day, her total of 18.6 put her in 8th place.

Overall, the three All-American titles brought home by the MIT gymnasts, combined with the excellent performances by Sollod, assures MIT of the firepower to make sure that next year's season will be the best ever for women's gymnastics at MIT.