Dec. 5, 2000
After a 2000 season that was plagued with injuries and disappointment the 2001 Utah State gymnastics team is sporting a renewed spirit and drive that should propel them to challenge for the Big West championship crown as well as a berth to the NCAA nationals.
"Last year we were challenged very early with injuries and never able to recover," said head coach Ray Corn. "This year those injuries have not only turned the corner, but the athletes on the squad are approaching a level that in my 23 years of experience I have not seen from a Utah State team."
Motivation to improve on last year's second place finish at the Big West Championships and fifth place finish at the regional meet has been driving the team through summer and fall training.
"I think that the athletes have a level of expectation that is quite high because after the regional meet last year half the team was in the gym the following Monday morning training for this upcoming year," said Corn. "They all stayed through the summer and worked extremely hard for greater difficulty, originality, and just commitment to the program.
"I fully expect that we are going to have the type of gymnastics team that Utah State is used to," said Corn. "I think that we will challenge BYU, Utah, and the top-10 teams in the country."
To do that Corn will have to depend on both the veterans and the incoming freshmen to step up to another level to fill the void left by graduating seniors Christy Denson, Jessica Porter, Trina Ewart, and Marla Lowes. Denson graduated as one of the most successful athletes in USU history winning two Big West all-around titles as well as earning all-conference honors in each of her last three years. Together the four seniors contributed seven of the 24 routines to last year's starting lineup.
Corn feels this team is plenty capable of filling the gaps left by last year's seniors as he not only returns 10 letterwinners, but four other athletes that battled injuries and either didn't compete or only competed on a limited basis last season.
The senior class, consisting of 2000 Big West vaulting co-champion Megan Woolstenhulme, Kristin O'Dell, and Amanda Jenkins, will be the veterans of the 2001 Aggie squad. Woolstenhulme should again be a staple in the vaulting line-up and should also challenge for a spot on both the beam and floor exercise. O'Dell returns as one of the premier floor workers from last year's Aggie squad averaging a score of 9.646 in 2000 while posting a career-high 9.875 at Texas Woman's. O'Dell could factor into the vault lineup as well. Rounding out the senior class is Amanda Jenkins whose clean lines and new release move on bars could make her a contender for a starting spot.
The Aggies will call upon the four-member junior class to provide additional experience and depth in 2001. Juniors include Kirra Seeley (Degener), Stephanie Gordon (Huff), Jessenia Abrego, and Kim Scharman. Seeley returns as a three-event specialist for USU who should again be a main stay in the bar, beam, and floor lineups. Last season Seeley turned in the team's third best season averages on all three of her events as well as recorded a new career-high of 9.850 on the bars at the Big West Championships.
Gordon competed on vault and floor in every meet for USU last year. She has increased the difficulty in her tumbling and made improvements to her tsukhara full vault that should again make her a lethal weapon on both events this season.
Abrego returns for her junior season after sitting out last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She is back to full strength and should provide the team with high-flying tumbling and vaulting. Abrego was the 1999 Big West vaulting champion and an all-conference selection on the bars as a freshman.
Scharman should provide additional depth to the Utah State team challenging for spots in the bar and beam lineups.
The Aggies' sophomore class will be headlined by the return of all-arounder Kristen Bloom. Bloom competed in the all-around in all but three meets last season turning in a career-high 39.175 at Texas Woman's. She has added difficulty to each of her routines this year and has added a new vault to her repertoire, learning a yurchenko over the summer.
"Kristen Bloom continues to improve and she's our top returning all-arounder from last year. She is going to be absolutely exciting to watch," said Corn.
"Nicole Kilpatrick and Tina Ellis both had injuries last year that prevented them from competing in the all-around," said Corn. "I think that they are going to make fans stand up with their levels of performance."
Last season Ellis competed on the bars and beam for Utah State and was the only freshman to earn all-conference honors, placing third on beam at the Big West Championships. Kilpatrick did not compete in the first three meets of the season and was then limited to just the beam while recovering from an achilles tendon injury.
Fargo was a solid competitor for USU on the vault last year averaging a 9.621. She also saw limited action on the beam and floor, competing on beam three times and the floor twice.
Rounding out the sophomore class are Kelcy Wathen and Allison Rosenthal who both sat out most of last season to heal knee injuries. Wathen competed on the bars in four meets for the Aggies turning in a high score of 9.800 in her collegiate debut at Utah. She is again expected to challenge for a spot in the bar lineup and could also see action on the beam.
Now full strength after battling a knee injury for the last year and a half Rosenthal is expected to challenge for a spot in the all-around.
"I think that every freshman that we have in the program should be able to come in and compete right away," said Corn.
Penman is a former elite gymnast who placed 25th at USA Championships before taking a two year hiatus from gymnastics. Corn expects that she could challenge her teammates in the all-around.
Houston may also see action in the all-around as she comes to Utah State as a two-time Level 10 national qualifier. Mattioli will likely compete in her strongest events, the vault and the floor exercise, where she carries a piked cuervo and double layout in her bag of tricks.
Nulph has tremendous difficulty on the balance beam and should challenge for a spot there, while DuPaix should be a factor in the bar lineup.
Top to bottom this year's team is loaded with talent that will give the Aggies a much deeper pool from which to choose their starting lineups.
"Because of what transpired last year there were young athletes that at first were forced into competition, but that I believed gained so much experience from that that they are coming to us now and giving us a depth chart where we are no less then 10 deep in every event," said Corn.
That said Corn will prepare his team for a schedule that includes perennial powerhouses and in-state rivals Utah and BYU as well as defending national champions UCLA.
The Aggies will open the season on the road at Boise State Jan. 15 and then travel to Berkeley, Calif. to take on Cal-Berkeley, Arizona, and Oklahoma Jan. 21 before returning to Logan to open the home season against Boise State, Jan. 26 in the Spectrum.
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