Tumbling into another record-breaking year: Can acrobatics and tumbling take the championship jump?

Jennifer Moglia, Staff Writer

 With Quinnipiac’s hockey and basketball teams only having a few home games left before their regular season winds down, students may be wondering where to shift their focus in the world of Bobcat athletics. One team gearing up to start its season this week is the acrobatics and tumbling team.

Quinnipiac’s 2022 season ended at the NCATA National Semifinals when they fell to the top-seed Baylor Bears by just 4.44 points. The Bears went undefeated for the entire season up to the semifinals and went on to win their seventh consecutive NCATA championship against Gannon.

The meet against Baylor was a close matchup the entire time. The only event scores separated by more than one point were the scores for the toss, tumbling and team events. The scores for the compulsory, acro and pyramid events were only separated by 0.3, 0.325 and 0.5 points respectively.

The fact that the Bobcats were able to hold their own with a team as strong as the Bears was a promising sign for this upcoming season. An even more promising sign was their performance in the Quad Pass that same weekend.

The team of junior base Tiffany Zieba and Summer Knoell, sophomore top/base Layla Tracey and Lyndsey Rudolph secured an Individual Event Final National Championship with a score of 8.775 in the Quad Pass heat of the Tumbling event. They defeated Hawaii Pacific in the final competition of the season to get their redemption after the loss to Baylor.

What’s so unique about acrobatics and tumbling is that there is essentially no contact between the two teams who are playing each other. The athletes don’t have to worry about guarding the opponent’s tallest player or getting a puck past their goaltender. Each player’s focus is on their own performance and the performance of their teammates, with less of a focus on scouting the other teams.

“To be honest, I never look at the other team, not in our sport,” head coach Mary Ann Powers said with a laugh Monday. “We really have to take care of our own material.” 

The Bobcats will face four opponents at home this season: Kutztown this Saturday, Augustana on March 5, Frostburg State on April 1 and Caldwell on April 14. In mid-March, they will travel to Clinton, SC and Waco, TX to face Presbyterian and Baylor, respectively.

For Powers, there are a few keys to success regardless of the opponent this season.

Quinnipiac acrobatics and tumbling (401 points) was ranked No. 4 in the NCATA Preseason Coaches’ Poll on Feb. 5, behind Baylor (494), Gannon (435) and Azusa Pacific (417). (Connor Lawless/Chronicle Archives (2022))

“I make it very clear that I want to see an upward climb,” Powers said. “If we are at our best right now, we’ve peaked way too early … we’ll have mistakes, and that’s okay, but let’s continue to climb upwards, let’s get stronger.”

Those expectations are clearly present, as the Bobcats were tabbed as No. 4 in the NCATA Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Quinnipiac received 401 total points in the poll, falling behind Baylor (494), Gannon (435) and Azusa Pacific (417).

In regard to key players, there are a few important faces that will be missing from the roster this season. Top/base Cassidy Osher, whose resume includes 2019 ECAC Specialist of the Year, two-time All-ECAC Honorable Mention (2018, 2019) and ECAC Specialist of the Week (2/19/2019), won’t be on the mat this season after finishing up her graduate season in the spring. 

Another player whose presence will be missed on the mat is base Asia Johnson, who finished her senior season in 2022. Johnson, a 2019 All-ECAC Selection, an NCATA Rookie of the Week (4/7/2019) and a two-time ECAC Rookie of the Week (4/5/2019 and 4/11/2019) bounced back last season after being injured in 2020 and 2021.

Out of the 10 seniors on the team last year, the only one returning for a graduate year is base Bella Pierce. The numbers from her freshman season in 2020 were promising, including a massive 9.83 average and a season-high 9.95 in the compulsory toss. Both pyramid groups she was in dominated and she had a positive impact on other event groups she was a part of, making her veteran presence helpful in the upcoming season.

Having a lot of freshmen on the team could be a worry for some teams and coaches. Powers couldn’t speak highly enough of the new players joining the squad this season.

“This whole first-year class is just genuine and really a pleasure to coach too,” Powers said. “They’re all-in, they’re invested, they’re dedicated, they’re hard workers.”

Powers mentioned freshmen top/tumbler Katherine Carter, base Abby Hamilton and back base Hailee Oswald as players to watch this season, emphasizing their strength and how well they work in team maneuvers.

Looking ahead to the season as a whole, the home opener stands out not just because it’s the first meet of the season, but because it is Quinnipiac Athletics’ “Women in Sports Day.” While the acrobatics and tumbling team faces Kutztown, the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team will face Union just across the hall.

Head coach Powers stressed the importance of supporting this initiative.

“One of the things I always say to my team is that there’s always going to be that little girl out there who wants to be just like you one day. What is the best thing you can do for that little girl? Stay in for the long haul. Put a smile on your face. Be outgoing. Be an impact player.”

The Bobcats’ first meet against Kutztown kicks off at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday at M&T Bank Arena. There is no doubt in Powers’ mind that her team is ready.

“I look forward to my first meet every single season,” Powers said. “These young women have a long, long practice season, probably almost too long … [I look forward to] seeing what they’re going to do on game day.”