Coach reflects on historic season after Bears win first state gymnastics title


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EAST BRUNSWICK – In a comeback season from COVID-19, the East Brunswick High School gymnastics made history in 2021 by winning the program’s first state title.

Under the direction of head coach Nadine Murray and assistant coach Melissa Kaplow, the Bears began the 2021 season with high expectations.

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“We understood that to win a championship a team must possess athletic depth. We believed we had it this year. We just needed to stay positive and healthy, and of course, not get shut down from COVID,” Murray said.

In 2020, the Bears struggled to build an identity as COVID restrictions limited the interactions between the gymnasts. However, with fewer restrictions imposed this year, the team members were able to develop a chemistry that led to a state championship.

“Last season was very difficult for a number of reasons. The three biggest factors that compromised our season were overall stress from COVID/quarantine, the high school and club gymnastics seasons running simultaneously, and not having the ability to form relationships between team members and coaches.

“Those disruptive factors from last year did not exist this year. This season we were able to have a normal season. We had minimal injuries, no COVID issues, competitions every week to keep us prepared, but not overworked, and time to form relationships,” Murray said.

Murray described this year’s gymnasts as “special” for their talent and their willingness to motivate each other.

“This season we had 14 active team members and one manager. The season was especially special because the young women on this team have talent, are motivated, and all get along. The support, emotionally and physically, they show for one another is inspiring. As their coach, I can see and feel the love they have for another.

“The all-around individual champion, Karina Munoz, competed in each event. During the individual competition, we had three other team members qualify for the all-around competition. Those team members, Kathryn McSweeney, Arianna McSweeney and Sasha Marcinczyk, all finished in the top 20.

“When one individual succeeded, they were all genuinely happy for that person. Showing that level of support is one of the reasons we were so successful this season. The care they show for one another is something Coach Kaplow and I work hard to establish within the gymnastics team’s culture,” Murray said.

Murray, a former United States of America Gymnastics (USAG) gymnast and an athlete at the State University of New York, Brockport, began coaching in 2015 after her husband, East Brunswick High School lacrosse coach Francis Murray, encouraged her to take the position.

“He encouraged me to coach as well. My husband knew my background as a former USAG gymnast and an NCAA Division III college athlete. This position is my first experience as a head coach,” Murray said.

Now in her seventh year as a head coach, Murray has reached a milestone that has not been reached before in the program’s history.

“This is the first state championship win for the East Brunswick High School gymnastics team. While I have been head coach, the team won the Greater Middlesex Conference in 2019, earned second place at the state sectional meet in 2019 and qualified for states in 2019,” Murray said.

Moving forward, Murray plans to continue developing a team-first culture that emphasizes positivity.

“Coach Kaplow and I work very hard with each gymnast on building confidence, maintaining a positive attitude and being supportive of one another. A lot of the skills we see come from the hard work the athletes put in at their private club gyms. We, the coaches, stress the importance of teamwork,” Murray said.

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