2002 Husky Gymnastics Outlook
Jan. 8, 2002
Last season Husky gymnastics coach Bob Levesque felt he had a rebuilding job on his hands.
Washington had lost five seniors who were among the most celebrated individuals in the program's history. Replacing them were five freshmen and one letterman coming off a redshirt season due to injury.
The Huskies produced a 17-13-1 record, made their 20th consecutive appearance at an NCAA Regional, finished 15th in the final GymInfo National Rankings and set school record scores on vault, bars, floor and finished third at the Pac-10 Championships with a school-record score.
So, when Levesque says he thinks the Huskies will be 'rebuilding' again in 2002, you have to wonder if more good things are in store for the Washington.
The similarities between the start of 2001 and this year are remarkable.
Gone are several seniors who rank among the top competitors in UW history in all-arounders Mandi Klug and Lanna Apisukh. The Huskies have an incoming freshman class of five newcomers. Washington returns a veteran performer who missed last season due to injury. About the only difference in the two story lines is the addition of a highly-touted transfer to the 2002 UW roster.
'I really like the depth we have on this year's team,' Levesque says. 'I think we have a lot of gymnasts who are capable of throwing scores in the 9.9 range on a consistent basis. Stacy Wong set the school record in the all-around last year, so she will be invaluable and Emily Pritchard is coming off a tremendous freshman season. We lost some very talented gymnasts, but I think we'll be okay. Young, but okay.'
Levesque also says he will point this team toward an ultimate goal of peaking at the end of the season.
'We have a very, very tough schedule and I'm not going to worry about our win-loss record,' says the two-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year. 'Our goal is to continue to develop as the season rolls along and to be at our best for regionals and nationals. We may pull some people back during the season to try and stay healthy during the year. That will create some opportunities for some of our younger gymnasts, so it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of those situations.'
The 2002 Husky team will build around the nucleus of eight returning starters that includes one senior, one junior and six sophomores. Heading up that group is junior Stacy Wong.
Wong had a remarkable comeback last season after sitting out the 2000 season and most of the 1999 campaign due to injuries. She placed second at the Pac-10 Championships in the all-around and won the conference bars title. Wong was second on the bars at the NCAA Regional at Nebraska.
Wong capped her sophomore season at the Pac-10s by setting the UW school record in the all-around with a score of 39.725. Wong's winning bar routine in that meet merited a score of 9.975, the second best in Husky history. It was the second time during the season she had achieved that mark.
'I think Stacy has a chance to be a national champion on bars,' says Levesque, who tutored several Olympians as a club-level coach. 'I have seen her do routines with two release moves that were stunning. She just needs to work on her consistency.
'I've always been a big fan of Stacy and I was really happy to see her have a great season last year after suffering through so many injuries her first two years at Washington. She's is going to carry this team this year and she's the perfect person for the job. She is a great leader by example, an extremely hard worker in the gym.'
Washington's only senior is two-time letterman Allison Bruce, who missed the 2001 season due to an Achilles tendon injury. She competed in every meet in 2000 on vault, beam and floor.
'We're excited to have Allison back and hope she can have the type of comeback that Stacy had a year ago,' Levesque says. 'Allison is very influential with this team and can really help us as a leader with so many underclassmen on our roster. On the floor, we expect to have her right back where she was as a sophomore, throwing some consistent scores on vault, beam and floor.'
Emily Pritchard, who had the best season of any Husky freshman gymnast, heads up Washington's large sophomore class. Competing as an all-arounder, Pritchard scored 39.500 in the Pac-10 Championships to set her career high. Pritchard capped her debut season as a Husky by winning the bars competition at the NCAA Regional.
'I have to admit that Emily surprised us last year,' Levesque admits. 'We did not expect her to have that much impact on our team in her first year. She did a terrific job, but some injuries caught up to her at the end of the year. I think Emily is capable of turning in the same scores this year, if not better. We just need her to stay healthy at the end of the season. We'll probably hold her out of some events at times this year to help her accomplish that.'
While Pritchard was the only all-arounder among last year's freshman class, the other five gymnasts all contributed on the Huskies' road to the NCAA regionals. Two of those, Tanya Powers and Molly Seaman, could compete as all-arounders this year.
Aside from Pritchard, Seaman saw the most experience of any freshman in 2001. She performed on vault, beam and floor in every meet, recording 9.9s on beam and floor. Powers came on during the second half of the season to be a regular on vault, bars and beam.
Amy Metcalf was in Washington's floor rotation for all but one meet last season. She managed season-high scores of 9.875 on floor and also on beam, where she competed three times.
Kim Claussen and Daniela Medlin were both bars specialist and both turned in season-best scores of 9.900 during their inaugural campaign. Gharde Geldenhuys, who competed for Namibia during the 2000 Olympics, was able to get on the floor on vault, bars and floor as a freshman.
'Our freshman class was really solid for us last season,' Levesque says. 'They were all able to contribute and they all got some great experience, sometimes in some pretty high-pressure situations. Let's see where they will go from here. We need them to continue to mature and develop their routines. We are going to rely on this group a lot more this year.'
Joining the Husky sophomore class is Utah transfer Tacia LaBatte. She competed on vault and bars for the Utes and, depending on how quickly she bounces back from a broken foot suffered last summer, could be an all-arounder for Washington.
'She could be a real sleeper,' Levesque says. 'She is very pleasant to watch perform. She is very effortless on floor. I think Tacia's strongest areas for us will be on floor and beam. I really think she'll be able to go as an all-arounder later in the season.'
Levesque feels this year's freshman class has plenty of potential, starting with Canada native Carly Dockendorf, one of her nation's top junior competitors.
'She has great potential,' Levesque says. 'She is a tremendous athlete and she could be one of the best gymnasts we have ever had here. She has the athletic ability to do a lot of things on the college level. She is strong, talented and a good dancer. I certainly expect to have her compete as an all-arounder.'
Joining Dockendorf in the freshman class is Lauren Brooks, Courtney Canavan, Kimberly Lewis and Jacynda Wnek. All four are Washington natives and products of local club programs.
Brooks could help the Huskies on vault and bars, Canavan on beam, floor and vault, Lewis on bars and floor and Wnek on floor and bars.
A dominant team on floor exercise the past few years, Levesque feels the team's top scores may come in some other areas.
'I think floor exercise may be our weakest area at the start of the year, but it might be our strongest by the end of the season,' Levesque. 'We have very good depth at bar and we have some great routines there. Vault is another area that we should see continued improvement during the year.
'This will be a fun season,' he says. 'I like this team and its chemistry. If we can stay healthy, and that is certainly the goal of every team, I think this team will grow stronger as the season progresses.'
It is a familiar storyline that the Huskies hope bears repeating.