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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Gymcats look to the past for hope

    Michael Fitzpatrick - Sports writer
    Michael Fitzpatrick – Sports writer

    Quick Hits with Fitz

    For the past 22 years, the Arizona gymnastics team has been synonymous with one thing: making the postseason.

    Year in and year out, the Gymcats have fielded a competitive team in one of the nation’s elite conferences. But despite their prolonged postseason streak, they have yielded very little in the way of hardware.

    The Gymcats have only advanced to the NCAA nationals nine times in their program’s history, the last time coming in 2002 when they placed second in the Tempe Regional. And of those nine trips, only once has Arizona advanced to the NCAA Super Six finals, and that was in 1993.

    That ’93 team was arguably one of the finest ever assembled in the Old Pueblo. Led by Pacific 10 Conference Gymnast of the Year Stacey Fowlkes and Pac-10 champions Kristi Gunning and Jenna Karadbil on the vault and beam, respectively, the Gymcats managed to place sixth of the final six teams.

    Only two Gymcats have ever been Individual NCAA Champions and both of those were co-champions. Anna Basaldua shared the 1991 vault title with Georgia’s Hope Spivey, and Heidi Hornbeek shared the 1996 floor title with Alabama’s Kim Kelly.

    This weekend the Gymcats will see where they stand on the measuring stick for greatness, as they will compete against of one of the only four teams to win a collegiate team championship, No. 2 Utah. The Utes have won nine team championships – one ahead of three-time defending champion Georgia.

    “”I have a ton of respect for the coaching staff at Georgia,”” said UA head coach Bill Ryden. “”They do a lot of extremely difficult gymnastics there, even though they donít necessarily need to.””

    This year, however, the Gymcats are primed to make an overdue appearance in the NCAA Nationals, at Georgia.

    Despite placing fourth in the Pac-10 Championship on March 29, the Gymcats accomplished one of their season long goals of not recording a single fall, which plagued them for much of the season.

    While some of the routines were not perfect, each and every gymnast managed to stay on the equipment, which provided a huge boost of confidence heading into the team’s first and potentially only off-week of the season.

    All great teams compete with that killer instinct and compete with a continual level of consistency. The Gymcats’ only consistency this year has been their inconsistency. From one meet to the next, they seem to take a step forward, then take one back.

    If there was ever a time for Arizona to string together a meet where every gymnast competed at her absolute best, the time is now. They have the potential to be one of the top teams in the nation, but potential means nothing unless it is realized during a meet.

    The top collegiate teams in the nation, Georgia, Utah, Florida, Alabama and Michigan, all have average scores higher than Arizona’s top score with scores of 196.542 or higher.

    All season, the Arizona mantra has been that they are good enough to make it to Nationals and they honestly believe it, from senior All-American Karin Wurm to freshman walk-on Kristen Schmieder.

    This weekend will be huge for the Arizona program. It will have one of the nationís finest training facilities and is in the best region possible to advance to Nationals, something that has evaded the current senior class. And after hosting a regional last year and barely missing out on a spot in the final 12, the team is hungrier than ever.

    For too long the Arizona gymnastics team has been the Atlanta Braves of women’s gymnastics, as the Braves won their division title for 14 consecutive seasons and only won one World Series.

    Perhaps this will finally be the year the Gymcats can make something else synonymous with their name: champions.

    -Michael Fitzpatrick is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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