The North Carolina gymnastics team easily defeated Brown University for a strange Monday mid-afternoon showdown, 195.400-192.100, while collecting all but two individual awards in the annual Pink Meet in Carmichael Arena.
The players, such as senior Morgan Lane — who volunteered last summer with Get REAL & HEEL, a program dedicated to assisting breast cancer survivors — attended early morning classes before heading to athletic treatment and other elements of their pregame routines.
The weird timing of the matchup, which started at 3:30 p.m., forced UNC (6-5, 1-3 EAGL) to emphasize concentration — especially considering it was their second meet in three days. The first of those came Saturday in Raleigh, when they narrowly lost to N.C. State and Michigan but convincingly beat Brown.
On Monday, in their first home meet in nearly a month, they did it again.
“I love this sport, so it’s super easy to have the energy — like, bring it,” Lane said. “I want to help (my teammates) do their best and when we do that it’s super fun and that makes us cheer even louder, bring even more energy.”
UNC’s first rotation started with the vault, putting it in control of a lead it would never lose as four Tar Heels tied for first place on the apparatus: Madison Hargrave, Kaitlynn Hedelund, Madison Nettles and Khazia Hislop all finished with an impressive score of 9.825.
Carolina struggled during its next two rotations, the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam. A lackluster showing from Brown kept the lead with the Tar Heels, but UNC head coach Derek Galvin attributed the subpar scores to his team’s fatigue and to judicial interpretation.
“We weren’t as aggressive and polished with our performances as we were at N.C. State,” Galvin said. “I thought they were still good routines; some of them were good routines. The judging was a little bit — and I’m not being critical of the judging — it’s just that it varies from meet to meet.”
There are provisions in the rules that allow judges to penalize one-tenth or two-tenths of a point, which creates discrepancies among meets, Galvin noted.
“Tonight, we had judges that were stricter in interpreting the rules and applying the deductions,” he said. “Beam is an event where if you show up tired ... it’ll show up, and I think it did.”
Focusing during the chaos
In order to decrease the total time of the meet, the rotations occurred simultaneously. Rather than waiting for the opposing gymnast to finish on their respective apparatus, the teams competed at the same time.
It significantly reduces the time of any meet, especially when more than two teams are present, but it creates distractions. For instance, while UNC completed its beam routines, Brown performed its floor exercise routines. The beam requires concentration and awareness; the floor exercise requires energy and flare.
To combat the chaos, UNC distracts its gymnasts during practices while they attempt their beam routines.
“As we’re doing things (on the balance beam), the girls are throwing foam cubes at them,” Galvin said. “It’s like throwing marshmallows at someone.”
And the strategy works. As music blasted for Brown’s floor exercise, both Lane and Hislop scored a 9.825 on the beam, good enough for the two to share the first-place podium for the beam award.
“They learn to block that out, Morgan Lane and Khazia both,” Galvin said. “I don’t even know if they hear the noise.”
The team even practices specific scenarios, such as one beam routine a couple of weeks ago.
”First, they had the music blaring, everyone was cheering super loud trying to throw you off and then they would shut the music off and everyone would be silent,” Lane said.
“Honestly, I think it’s easier to focus when there’s a lot of noise going on around you because then you can kind of stay inside yourself. But when there’s no noise, your thoughts wander everywhere.”
One of the nation’s best
Heading into Monday’s meet, UNC ranked seventh nationally with its floor exercise routines.
“That bodes well,” Galvin said. “To be one of the top teams in the country on that event I think it’s just— it’s exciting.”
Out of the twelve competitors on the floor, UNC held the top six spots. Hislop finished in first place with a score of 9.900 while Lane, Nettles, Lily Dean and Mikayla Robinson ended in a four-way tie for second. Hargrave finished with the third best score (9.825), but she finished sixth in the event due to the second-place tie.
The Tar Heels will be back in action on March 2 when they travel to Alabama to take on the Crimson Tide. They'll be back in Carmichael Arena on March 9 as they host Arizona, San Jose State and Air Force at 8:30p.m.