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Rocchio Wins 1st at Gymnastics Championships

By Catherine Garrett
Team Coach

The women's gymnastics team returned home this past weekend from competing last Friday and Saturday at the Division III National Gymnastics Championships held in St. Paul, Minn.

The team posted its best ever finish on the national level placing seventh overall, with a team score of 136.85 - based upon the top four scores earned in each event.

Teams from Hamline University, Gustavus Adolphus College, State University of New York at Cortland, SUNY Brockport, Winona (Minn.) State University, and Ithaca College all qualified for the competition, as well as team champion University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse.

MIT not only performed superbly at its national debut but also claimed one of its own national championships. Sheila Rocchio '97, a two-time 1994 All-American winner, doubled those awards at this year's performance as she became MIT's first-ever national champion gymnast, winning first place overall in the all-around with a new MIT record score of 36.3.

Rocchio was the only athlete at this year's championships to qualify into the finals competition in all four events, of which she took home medals and All-American awards on three. Earning a silver medal on vaulting, a bronze on the floor exercise, and fifth place overall on the balance beam, Rocchio now becomes the most successful gymnast in MIT's history.

Team opens with vault

The team began the meet on vaulting where Sandy Dow '96 stuck a clean handspring vault while Valentina Sequi '97 and Michelle Miles '98 had beautiful 1/2 on, full-twist off vaults for scores of 8.1 and 8.2, respectively.

Tasi Chiarenza '97 landed her vault with a full-twist in the pre-flight phase to a disappointingly lower score than expected of 7.9. Team captain Janet Sollod '96 showed a new vault, a handspring with 1 1/2 twists during the post-flight phase, and scored impressively with an 8.7. Rocchio nailed her landings on both front handspring 1 1/2 rotating front somersault vaults and earned a 9.25.

Pressure on uneven bars

Uneven bars unleashed a little more pressure on the first-time nationals competitors, but Erica Carmel '96 cleanly finished her entire set that included a free straddle back over the low bar. Sollod had her best ever turning uprise to 1/2 twist overshoot despite under-rotating her 1 1/2 somersaulting dismount.

Miles pulled out a nice set that include two free-hip to handstands with a 1/2 pirouette on the high bar for a score of 8.25. Alli Christenson '98, despite competing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, scored 8.05. Her fantastic routine could have scored better if she did not receive a deduction for having to omit her dismount.

Rocchio had her strongest set of the season as she popped her straddle-back over the low bar strongly to a handstand and stuck her 1 1/2 somersaulting dismount for an 8.65.

A severe disappointment for the team was the score of 8.25 for returning uneven bars All-American Chiarenza. Chiarenza's routine score was lowered 0.6 due to a technical issue that was protested to no avail by the coaches, and her hopes for defending her All-American status were dashed.

As the evening wore on, balance beam, the most difficult event to compete in, served still to be a struggle for the Engineers as Miles, Carmel, and Kaye all suffered falls. Miles and Kaye, however, managed excellent scores despite their difficulties and scored 8.4 and 8.15.

Chiarenza put her disappointments from bars behind her, managed two beautiful back-handsprings in a row and her trademark Shushanova jump (the only such maneuver performed in the meet) for her season's highest score of 8.6.

Sollod was "rock solid" for the team as she put two switch-leg leaps, a back handspring, and amazing straddle jumps behind her for a score of 8.55.

Rocchio was the last MIT competitor on the balance beam and as she stuck her first acrobatic series, a back-handspring back layout, her teammates knew that an exciting finish for their teammate was on the horizon. Rocchio landed her full-twisting dismount to the applause of the excited crowd and a score of 9.0.

Talent shown in floor exercise

Floor exercise showed off the top talents that this MIT team had to offer.

Dow and Kaye began the event with routines that combined athletic jumps with innovative connections between acrobatic tumbling runs, while Chiarenza and Miles were both precise and graceful for scores of 8.05 and 8.45, respectively. Sollod, as usual, had her best performance on the floor exercise as she scored an 8.95 and missed qualifying into the finals event by only 0.1.

Rocchio landed a powerful double back somersault in her first tumbling run and finished with her triple pirouette in a straddle split position. Rocchio's score of 9.4, when combined with her scores from the three other events, totaled a 36.3, a sum which later that evening, identified her as the 1995 National Champion.

Rocchio successful in finals

During the next day's finals competition, Rocchio, despite being hindered by a sore left elbow from an injury she sustained during vaulting warm-ups the previous day, did not miss a single routine.

Final standings, as determined by adding the score from the previous day's competition to the score earned during the finals meet, found Rocchio in second place overall on vaulting after she added another 9.25 to her collection for landing a beautiful front-front vault.

Balance beam and floor exercise were also on target for Rocchio as she scored an 8.95 and a 9.35 for performances just as smooth and enthusiastic as they had been the evening before. Uneven bars was the only event that Rocchio struggled with as her straddle-back to handstand was not quite vertical and 0.6 was deducted from her score to end with a 7.9 for the performance.

Rocchio's excellent performances during the finals competition underscored her amazing win of the previous evening and earned her three additional All-Americans for balance beam, floor exercise, and vaulting.

At the end of the 1995 season, Rocchio now holds four out of five MIT gymnastics records. The only record that eludes her is held by teammate Chiarenza on the uneven bars.