The Maryland gymnastics team's practices this week were quiet.
Not because the squad was still lamenting its 193.375 at the Big Five Meet last weekend — its lowest total since mid-January — but because coach Brett Nelligan was testing a new tactic in an effort to fix that lapse.
In the postseason, the NCAA requires teams to cheer for routines from corrals further away from the events than the gymnasts often stand in the regular season. At the Big Five Meet, senior Sarah Faller said this year's Terps were in "uncharted territory" with the more distant setup.
So, Nelligan has sought to mimic this environment at practice this week, urging the Terps slow down by taking exaggerated deep breaths before routines and limiting the cheering noise levels in the gym.
"Brett always talks about doing one skill at a time and slowing it down but sometimes when you're cheering and you get all excited, you rush your skills," freshman Alecia Farina said. "Not cheering helped because it gave you a second to breathe and focus on what you were doing."
The silent practices didn't exactly reflect the environment the Terps will encounter when they compete at Rutgers in the Big Ten Championships on Saturday, but they did force the gymnasts to find their confidence within themselves.
Farina said the practices were strange because the gym normally reverberates with the Terps' loud volume, but she and her teammates have learned from the strategy and she expects to be more comfortable when competing in the early session of the 10-team meet this weekend.
Junior Evelyn Nee, who said her childhood club coach forbid cheering for teammates on beam in fear they might lose focus, was puzzled, too. She acknowledged the difficulty because her instinct is to encourage her teammates.
"When your teammates are going here, you want to cheer them on," Nee said. "It's just really hard to keep it back. It was a little awkward and uncomfortable, but you can still feel your teammates' positive energy."
Maryland is on the bubble for the upcoming regional selections and, with an outing like the last, could risk missing NCAA Regionals for the second consecutive year after attending seven straight.
Still, Nee believes Nelligan's preparation will garner an improved score to secure a berth in the 36-team field.
"I don't think this is going to be our last meet," Nee said.