2002 Gymnastics Season Outlook
Nov. 29, 2001
TEMPE, Ariz. -- During ASU's impressive 2001 season, which included an upset of No. 1 UCLA and multiple school record breaking performances, Sun Devil coaches and athletes alike credited their accomplishments to an outstanding team chemistry, a bond that paced ASU to a ninth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga.
Now at the dawn of the 2002 season, head coach John Spini believes chemistry will be just as important in his 22nd season at ASU. The only problem is that he's still trying to determine what elements he has to work with.
Having said goodbye to five letterwinners and welcomed in their place two experienced transfers and three inexperienced freshmen, Spini's 2002 team is decidedly different from a year ago. Different not only in terms of its roster, but in terms of the coaching staff as well, as Shelly Eaton replaces five-year assistant coach Kristen Smyth, who left ASU for the head coaching position at Stanford in the off-season.
The 2002 season is different also in that campus construction has forced the Sun Devils out of the only practice facility they've ever known (P.E. West) and into an off-campus club facility (Desert Lights), which will house the team until the planned Wells Fargo Addition is constructed.
'This season has a different rhythm for me,' Spini said. 'We're not in the same facility that we've been in for my entire career, so it's different for me and for the kids who have to deal with 15 minutes of traveling each way to train.
'It's a unique year and it's a very exciting year, but with all the things that still have to be figured out and all of the questions that still have to be answered it's hard to predict just how well we're going to do.'
Bringing a huge sense of calm among all the change is ASU's strong corps of returners, led by its two returning all-arounders and 2001 All-Americans, Maggie Germaine (vault) and Laura Moon (all-around).
Also returning senior Rhonda Robinette and juniors Ashley Ellsberry, Cassidy Vreeke and Margaret Wojciak, the Sun Devils have valuable leadership on top. They'll aim to utilize it this year, perhaps using any or all of the juniors in the all-around.
Adding two other returning sophomores and its five newcomers, the Sun Devils may still be lacking an identity, but they are bursting with promise.
'I think the season is really going to depend on the health of our freshmen,' Spini said, having watched two athletes go down with season-ending injuries last year. 'Our depth chart is weaker than I'd like it to be in three events, and to be successful we're really going to have to work on getting the right sequence of routines put together for our consistency level.
'I think we're a top-12 team. I think we're actually a better team than we were last year in a lot of spots, but it's all going to come down to how healthy we keep our athletes and the team chemistry. If we can respond in those two areas I think we can accomplish the goal we always have set for ourselves, to qualify for the NCAA Championships and look to be one of those teams left standing at the Super Six.'
The following is an event-by-event look at the 2002 Sun Devils.
With some strong returners and talented newcomers, the Sun Devils' vault lineup should be improved as a whole this season, however team depth could still be a concern.
Returning to lead the way is sophomore all-arounder Maggie Germaine, who earned second-team All-America honors on vault last season with a 9.85 performance at the NCAA Championships. Germaine hit her last 11 vaults of 2001, with nine marks of 9.8 or better, including three scores at or above 9.9.
Another top returning vaulter is junior Cassidy Vreeke, who Spini expects will benefit greatly from the off-season changes to the code of points. Last season Vreeke stuck four vaults at 9.8 or better including a career-best 9.875.
Providing ASU with consistent performances from the leadoff spot should be senior Laura Moon, who scored no higher than a 9.825 on vault last season, but also scored no lower than a 9.7 in 11 of her 12 attempts.
Figuring heavily in the Sun Devils' success will be three gymnasts with little to no competitive collegiate experience in the exercise. First, freshman Trisha Dixon brings to the table great power and speed and the possibility of a 10.0 vault, but will have to prove she can adjust to collegiate competition.
Second, junior Ashley Ellsberry is one of ASU's top returning athletes on balance beam and floor exercise, yet has not made a single appearance in ASU's vault lineup during her career. This season, Spini figures Ellsberry to add at least vault to a repertoire that has always included beam and floor and be a possible all-arounder.
Third, sophomore walk-on Jada Cox, who came up big for ASU late last season after the roster was decimated by injury, could work her way into the starting lineup. As a freshman, Cox did not compete for ASU until the ninth meet of the year, but filled in admirably down the stretch and into postseason, recording one 9.7 and two 9.75s.
The Sun Devils' most experienced vaulter coming in is sophomore transfer Carla DeMartini, who earned All-Big 12 honors with the University of Oklahoma last year with a 9.85 at the Big 12 Championships. Freshman Nicole Gause is also expected to work her way into the lineup.
Waiting in the wings with some 9.9 vaults will be junior Margaret Wojciak, who has a career best 9.825, and junior transfer Melissa Lewis, who walked on with the Sun Devils after two years at Cal State Fullerton.
'Vaulting this year will be similar to the last couple of years where we have five to six very strong athletes, but where depth is a weakness,' Spini said. 'We're still trying to work on getting a few more 10.0 vaults. Right now I like where we are for our first six athletes, but after that sixth spot in the lineup it's a little unclear who is going to step up.'
Uneven Bars -
One season after setting a school record with a 49.425 team total vs. Arizona, the Sun Devils are trying to find their identity on uneven bars, having graduated three of its starters from 2001.
Unquestionably the leader is Moon, an All-American in the all-around who scored two perfect 10.0s among her seven bars routines at 9.9-or-better last season.
Also headlining ASU's returners are Wojciak and Germaine. Last season Wojciak earned eight marks at or above 9.8, while pulling in three career-best 9.9s, to finish the season with a 9.77 average. Germaine's average on bars was also just below 9.8 (9.79), having hit 13-of-13 routines with a best of 9.9. Getting a bigger dismount from Germaine this season should help the Sun Devils improve in this event.
After that trio, the Sun Devils turn to senior Rhonda Robinette, who appeared occasionally on bars in 2001 and has a career best of 9.85, and a cast of newcomers.
Here, DeMartini comes in to give ASU an experienced boost. Last season at Oklahoma, DeMartini scored a 9.8 at the NCAA South Central Regional and finished the season with a best of 9.925.
Freshmen Kari Muth and Dixon are also expected to have a big impact, especially Muth who if consistent could emerge as one of the Sun Devils' standout athletes on the apparatus by the end of the season.
Sophomore Amber Giorgianni, who returns after missing the latter half of 2001 after suffering a torn ACL, could also be factored into ASU's bars lineup, although she competed only on vault and balance beam as a freshman.
'There's no question that losing three starters from last year really hurts us, especially in terms of depth,' Spini said. 'Obviously you have to feel really good when you have Laura Moon, one of the premier gymnasts in the country in that event, leading the way for you, but we're still looking for our fifth and sixth spots. I'm hoping someone will step up, but right now we're pretty wide open.'
Balance Beam -
Returning all of its starters from last season and adding some talented newcomers, the Sun Devils have reason to be optimistic about balance beam, an event that often proves key in championship meets.
ASU's most consistent returners are Moon and Germaine, who combined for only four falls among 25 routines last year. Scoring at-or-above 9.85 seven times, Moon improved her career best to 9.925, while Germaine wrapped her freshman season with a best of 9.875.
Perhaps on the verge of a breakout season is Ellsberry, who returns as ASU's leader from a year ago, having closed out the 2001 season hitting 10 straight routines, half of which scored at 9.875 or better, including a career best to a 9.95.
Robinette was also impressive last season, pushing her career best to 9.925. Her veteran leadership, and the consistency that earned ten marks at-or-above 9.8, will be a key to ASU significant depth this season.
Other veterans who will be asked to match Robinette's consistency will be juniors Vreeke and Wojciak. At one point last season, Vreeke rattled off three consecutive 9.85s. Wojciak, meanwhile, made only two appearances on beam until March, but then hit four of five routines that included crucial 9.8s at the NCAA Central Regional and the NCAA Championships.
New on the scene are Dixon, Muth and Gause. While Dixon and Muth should also contend for spots, Gause may be the front runner to break into the lineup on beam.
A wildcard in the event for the Sun Devils is Giorgianni, who showed promise with a season-best 9.875 on beam before suffering her season-ending knee injury. If she can regain her previous form, opposing teams will find it even tougher to contend with ASU on beam.
'Balance beam is definitely our strongest event in terms of depth, and I think it's the event where we can really compete,' Spini said. 'If you do well on beam, you're going to do well in the postseason and getting to postseason. We have a lot of talented kids working at a high level, so I'm really excited about what we can do there.'
Floor Exercise -
Minus two of its most dynamic floor artists from 2001 (Kelly Cowley and Kristin Fanning) and working with a new choreographer (Eaton), ASU's lineup on floor exercise looks different on many counts, but should still have the Sun Devils contending with the nation's top teams.
Eaton, who herself was an All-American on floor during her collegiate career at the University of Utah (then Shelly Schaerrer), replaces five-year assistant coach Kristen Smyth at the helm of ASU's floor attack, which garnered seven All-America honors during Smyth's tenure.
Leading the way under the competitive spotlight will be a trio of returners: Germaine, Ellsberry and Vreeke. A season ago, Germaine earned seven scores at-or-above 9.85, including three highs of 9.925. Ellsberry meanwhile scored at-or-above 9.8 ten times, with two career-best 9.9s.
While only in the floor lineup half of last season, Vreeke closed out the year earning some of the team's best marks in some of its biggest meets, a 9.9 at the NCAA Central Regional, a 9.925 vs. Auburn and a 9.95 at the Pac-10 Championships.
Another constant on floor last season was Moon, who didn't approach her career best of 9.925 which she earned while at Maryland, but did offer a steady diet of solid scores, with seven of her 11 routines going for 9.8 or better.
Likely to add new energy to the lineup will be freshmen Muth and Gause, and sophomore transfer DeMartini, who scored a high of 9.875 with Oklahoma last year.
'Floor is another good event for us,' Spini said. 'It's always been a strong event in the past and I see no reason that it won't be again this year. We've got some impact athletes that can really perform the routines we have laid out for them. Coming in, I really think Kari Muth and Nicole Gause can do a good job for us, so I'm confident there. I wish we were a little deeper, but we'll be fine and we'll have a better understanding once we start competing.'
The ASU gymnastics page is currently being updated for the 2002 season. We thank you for your patience.
Wed 2/21 | 7:30pm PTLive
Thu 2/22 | 6:00pm PTLive