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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Gymcats proud of season despite struggles

    Members of the Arizona gymnastics team stand during the national anthem before NCAA regionals April 14 in McKale Center. After losing to Oregon State at regionals by 0.05 points, the Gymcats did not compete as a team at the NCAA Championships.
    Members of the Arizona gymnastics team stand during the national anthem before NCAA regionals April 14 in McKale Center. After losing to Oregon State at regionals by 0.05 points, the Gymcats did not compete as a team at the NCAA Championships.

    The Arizona gymnastics team went through an injury-plagued season and narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2002.

    The Gymcats failed to qualify after Oregon State defeated them by 0.05 points at regionals. For the second consecutive year, Arizona had the highest regional score of the teams that didn’t progress to the Championships.

    The 2007 season saw injuries to key competitors, including senior Aubrey Kelly and sophomore Alexis Greene, but other gymnasts took on the challenge of replacing them in the lineup, ultimately revealing the team’s unprobed depth, said UA head coach Bill Ryden.

    “”It was a great year from a coach’s standpoint because you actually saw people develop right in front of your eyes,”” Ryden said. “”Basically, the team was going to fail if they didn’t step up, and they responded to the challenge. … I knew we’d be this good, but I didn’t expect it to come from (those) sources.””

    Freshmen Brittney Morgan and Miranda Russell, who were each slated to compete in only a couple of events, ended up competing in the all-around for most of the season.

    Morgan racked up a career-high all-around score of 39.350 – including a 9.975 on vault, the team’s highest score on any event this season – March 9 against N.C. State, James Madison and William and Mary, a performance that earned her Pacific 10 Conference Gymnast of the Week honors. Russell posted a career-high 39.250 in the same meet.

    Redshirt freshman Sarah Specht also stepped up under pressure. As the last gymnast available to compete bars when Kelly was injured, Specht scored a 9.700 in her bars debut against then-No. 3 Stanford on Feb. 16 and a career-high 9.825 against California on March 23.

    Specht also appeared on vault and floor and finished in a four-way tie for first place with a career-high 9.850 in her first floor appearance at Cal on March 2.

    “”No one would have guessed that she was going to be a major scorer on three events,”” Ryden said, “”and had Aubrey never gotten hurt, Sarah Specht may never have had her chance on bars.””

    Returning gymnasts stepped up as well, especially sophomores Bree Workman, who took first or second place on vault four times during the season, and Briana Bergeson, who scored a career-high 9.950 on beam against Cal.

    Arizona’s upperclassmen rooted the team.

    Junior Danielle Hicks won or shared four beam titles over the season and was ranked as high as No. 6 on beam nationally.

    Senior Jamie Holton consistently finished in the top three on vault and beam and won or shared five floor titles, capping her McKale Center appearances with a career-high 9.950 on floor on senior night March 16. She qualified for the NCAA Championships on beam after taking first place with a 9.925 at regionals.

    Junior Karin Wurm finished first on the uneven bars seven times during the season and earned six all-around titles, topping out at a career-high 39.425. She finished sixth all-around at the Pacific 10 Conference Championships and qualified for the NCAA Championships after placing second all-around at regionals.

    “”From an overall team perspective, it was the best team of my four years,”” Kelly said. “”With all the things that we had to overcome and (us) still getting better, that says a lot about the girls.””

    The Gymcats struggled at the end of the season, finishing fourth at the Pac-10 Conference Championships in Tempe on March 31.

    The team didn’t make the NCAAs, but Wurm, Morgan and Holton advanced as individuals. Only Wurm progressed to the individual event finals, where she finished 13th on floor.

    Looking ahead

    Ryden said he expects the team to revolve around Wurm next year as she continues to polish her skills, especially on beam.

    “”Her first and foremost goal is to get a handle on beam,”” he said. “”She knows it’s her weakest event. She knows that it dropped her probably four to six spots in the all-around (at NCAAs). … It’s now to a point where everything else is so strong that it’s visible.””

    The rising underclassmen will have a significant role to play as well. Ryden said he plans to continue using Morgan and Russell as all-arounders and is hopeful that Workman, Bergeson and Specht will continue to mature and become more consistent with experience.

    Greene’s status is up in the air as she heals from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and Hicks will also be recovering from surgery she had last week on a bone spur in her ankle and damaged ligaments in her shoulder.

    The team has signed two recruits: Colleen Fisher of Murrieta, Calif., and local walk-on Kristen Schmieder, who trains with the Tucson Tumbleweeds.

    Fisher, the national all-around champion in the 2005 Junior Olympics, should begin to make an impact immediately, Ryden said.

    Holton may also join the coaching staff, and Kelly said she will be at all the meets to cheer on the team.

    After coming so close to NCAAs for the second year in a row, the team has a definite goal to make it next year, Wurm said.

    “”Everyone was just crushed by regionals this year,”” she said. “”We’re going to have a really strong team who know what it takes and know what they want to achieve.””

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