Veterans and Newcomers Mix to Form 2001 Edition of Husky Gymnastics

Jan. 11, 2001

Seattle - Trying to replace five of the most successful gymnasts in Washington's history is the task that head coach Bob Levesque faces in his 11th season directing the Husky program.

Gone from last year's 12-11 team that placed fourth at the NCAA Regionals and 17th in the final poll are seniors Tiffany Simpson, Lauren Riesenman, Crystal Collins, Rhyan Pelander and Leah Waaramaki.

Simpson was a six-time All-American at Washington and the owner of two schools records, including three perfect scores on floor exercise. During her career she was the backbone of Washington's all-around scorers. Also graduated is Riesenman, a four-time performer at the NCAA Championships. Collins was a steady specialist on bars while Pelander and Waarmaki came on strong as seniors and were regulars in the Husky rotation.

To replace that talented group of performers, Washington will rely on seven new freshmen and the return of junior Stacy Wong from a knee injury.

'When we started training this year, I thought to myself, `Well, with all of these freshmen, this will be a rebuilding year,' says Levesque. 'But the effort everyone has put forth, especially the freshmen making the transition to collegiate gymnastics, has been very good. While we won't be as deep as we have been the past few seasons, I'm convinced that if we stay healthy, we'll be right in the thick of things when it comes to the NCAA regionals.'

Washington enters the season already down one gymnast due to injury. Junior Allison Bruce tore her Achilles tendon during preseason drills and will sit out the season.

'Allison became a steady scorer for us last year and looking at this year's roster, she was one of our most experienced veterans,' Levesque says. 'She competed on vault, beam and floor, so we'll need someone to step up in those areas.'

Junior Stacy Wong, who missed the 2000 season after suffering a knee injury during preseason practice, returns as an all-arounder for Washington.

'We've been waiting two years to see Stacy healthy and I can't wait for her to get out there and perform,' Levesque says. 'As a freshman, she only competed in the final five meets of the season due to an injury. She is truly an outstanding gymnasts and should be one of our top all-arounder.'

Wong's only Husky experience has been on uneven bars during the 1999 season. Despite not competing last year due to her injury, Wong's teammates voted her the team's most inspirational gymnasts.

'I've never seen anybody work as hard as she does,' Levesque marvels. 'Even when she was injured, she was in constant motion. She would train, work on part of her routines that her injuries would allow, and just be a very positive force on the team.

'Her difficulty level is very high and she's worked hard to upgrade all of her routines.'

Leading the list of the six returners from last year's team are seniors Lanna Apisukh and Mandi Klug. Apisukh competed as an all-arounder in every meet except for the NCAA regionals last season. She won the all-around in three meets and won event championships on vault twice and bars once.

Apisukh excels in the vault and on floor exercise with her high-energy routines.

'Lanna has been a very steady gymnasts for us and we expect the same this year,' Levesque says. 'She has the talent to finish her career with a strong senior season and to qualify for the NCAAs. She has a high level of difficulty in her routines and could be our points leader this season. If there has been one area that has been Lanna's nemesis, it has been the beam and she has spent a lot of time on that event in preparation for the season.'

Klug enters her senior season as a two-time captain. She specializes on vault and beam for Washington and this year will add floor to her routines.

'Mandi is another gymnast who has worked very hard for her senior season,' Levesque says. 'She's in great shape and we are expecting another solid year from her. She has upgraded her routines and should be one of our leaders on vault and floor. She has become a very good leader for this team and we will need that with seven freshmen in the lineup.'

Jessica Schedler is the third senior on this year's team. Schedler performed on vault and bars in every meet last season for the Huskies.

'Jessica made very good progress last year considering she competed in only three meets her first two seasons,' Levesque says.

Also returning from last year's team is junior Sidney Field. She competed on vault in two competitions in 2000, but has experience on all four events during her collegiate career.

Levesque has challenged his seven freshmen to take advantage of the opportunities in the lineup created by the departure of the five seniors.

'They will have some ups and some downs like all freshmen,' Levesque says. 'I like the way they have responded as a group to a pretty big challenge. They are going to have to grow and mature pretty quickly if we are going to achieve our goals this season.'

Tanya Powers and Molly Seaman are two freshmen who have stood out during preseason practice sessions. Powers is a Level 10 national champion on balance beam who hails from Hurst, Texas while Seaman joins the Husky program after growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

'Tanya can be an all-arounder for us, but she suffered an ankle injury before the start of the school year that has slowed her down in preparation for the season,' Levesque says. 'If she cannot go on all four events, we'll have her compete on bars and beam.

'The only way to describe Molly is as a firecracker,' Levesque says. 'She could really post some good scores for us. I want to see her go as an all-arounder and floor and beam will be her strongest events.'

Emily Pritchard is a 'sleeper' according to Levesque. 'She really knows how to play to the crowd and she has a dynamite floor routine.'

Gharde Geldenhuys will have little trouble adapting to collegiate gymnastics after her international experience last summer. Geldenhuys represented her native Namibia at the Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia.

'Gharde is a really hard worker and I expect to have her compete on vault and maybe floor,' Levesque. 'She has a lot of ability and I think, in time, she will develop that to the fullest because she is committed to working very hard in the gym every day.'

Kim Claussen, Daniela Medlin and Amy Metcalf are the final three freshmen to round out the team.

'All three of them could compete for us this year,' Levesque says. 'We'll just have to see how the rotations work out.'

The seven freshmen competitors are not the only new thing for the Husky gymnastics program in 2001. Washington moves into a newly renovated training facility and will compete in the remodeled Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion after a one-year absence.

'The Arena is a fantastic site for a gymnastics competition,' Levesque says. 'The new floor plan will allow us to spread out a little bit for each of the event. Last year we were in the Addition and it had a capacity of just 500 for a meet. It was very intimate and made for a great atmosphere, but our gymnasts are very excited to perform in the new Arena. I think our fans will really enjoy watching a meet in the Arena and we're excited to host the Pac-10 Championships there this season.'

The Arena renovation also included a complete remodel of Washington's training facility.

'We have needed these improvements for a number of years,' Levesque says. 'We built up the floor that allowed us to construct pits into the facility for the first time. We now have a quality training facility right here on campus. That should be a nice boost to the program.'

The Huskies will host the 2001 Pac-10 Championships on March 24 in Bank of America Arena. After that, Washington hopes to make its 20th consecutive appearance at the NCAA Regionals.

'That's our goal and then we'll see where we stand,' Levesque says. 'With the Arena, the new training gym and seven freshmen, there is a lot of energy associated with the program right now. We need to take advantage of those things if we are going to have a good season.'

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