2005 Gymnastics Season Preview

Dec. 22, 2004

To say the Washington gymnastics team went through highs and lows last year might be cliché, but it accurately sums up the Huskies' season.

The highs were numerous, as the team posted five of the top seven scores in the program's history, including shattering the school scoring record by posting a 198.025 in a three-way home meet. Washington also set scoring records on bars, beam and floor en route to a 12-10-1 season. One of those wins was over top-ranked UCLA, the second time in school history that UW knocked off the Bruins.

Despite all the success, what the team and Coach Bob Levesque remember most is the one meet that proved to be the low point of the season. The second-seeded Huskies finished a disappointing fifth place at the North Central Regional held in Denver, Colo. and failed to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

'We had the worst meet of the entire year on the worst day to have it,' says Levesque. 'We had just come off of a school record team score, so we went into regionals riding high and thinking that we had a legitimate shot of making it (to the NCAA Championships).'

The Huskies arrived at the regionals as the 11th-ranked team in the nation, but they struggled on their opening event the bars, recording the team's lowest score of the season. The Huskies were never able to recover and were stopped short of reaching their ultimate goal.

'That was very uncharacteristic of our team,' says Levesque. 'We ended our own season, it wasn't like anyone stepped up to bat and beat us. We have been soul searching and trying to figure out why.'

Levesque is hoping to rally the troops and is confident that this year's team will finish their season on a higher note. One thing on the Huskies side is that the West Regionals are going to be held in Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on April 9, giving Washington the proverbial home-court advantage.

'Luckily we are hosting regionals this year,' Levesque says with a sigh of relief. 'If we make the Super Six, that's great. If we are national champions, that's great too. But, the number one goal for us right now is to make nationals as a team.'

The Huskies have not been to the NCAA Championships as a team since 1998. In order to make it this year, the Huskies must fill some big shoes. Levesque has eight returning letterwinners and nine newcomers on the roster that will challenge for that elusive NCAA bid.

'The team this year is actually stronger than the team that we had last year,' Levesque says. 'We lost Emily Pritchard and Amy Metcalf, but we have people who have really stepped up.'

Although Pritchard and Metcalf are gone, senior Carly Dockendorf, the lone Husky to compete at the 2004 NCAA Championships, is back. Dockendorf finished tied for 24th on the floor at the NCAAs and recorded two perfect 10s in the event during the season. She is the team's leading returner with 13 individual event titles and will also be counted on to burden the team's leadership role.

'I think the kids really look up to Carly,' says Levesque. 'She makes a natural team captain. She is a great team leader and is always very vocal and upbeat in the gym.'

As the team leader, Dockendorf will be counted on to pace the all-around. She has proven her ability on the floor time and time again and has also been a force on the vault and the bars, winning individual titles in both events. It is the beam that proves to be her greatest challenge. Levesque is confident that Dockendorf, who is one of the top pole vaulters on the Husky track and field team, can conquer the beam.

'Beam is a mental event and it is tough,' says Levesque. 'Any sport she puts her mind to do, she does well.'

Besides Dockendorf, the Huskies return three other seniors that will be expected to contribute in their final campaign.

Tacia LaBatte was a regular in the Huskies vault, bars and floor lineup last year and will be counted on again in those events. She has battled through back problems her whole career, but hasn't let that hold her back. Not only did LaBatte have regular gymnastics workouts to attend during the fall, but also LaBatte was a member of the Husky cheer squad.

'Tacia's back has been hurting since she came here,' says Levesque. 'She started out really well this year and we have the depth to rest her, so we will do that. We'll need her on vault and bars throughout the whole season.'

Another Husky that has battled through injuries during her Husky career is senior Molly Seaman. The Alabama-native has been Washington's anchor on the beam and will be counted on to fulfill the same role this season. She ranked second in the nation on the beam last year and won six event titles on the apparatus. When healthy, Seaman will also be counted on contributing on the floor.

'It is her final season and we are really going to need her on beam,' Levesque says about Seaman. 'As long as Molly is healthy, she is our stud on beam. She fights through things and has a positive attitude. Besides Carly, Molly is the team leader.'

The fourth senior on the team is Kim Lewis. Lewis is a versatile performer who can compete on the bars, beam and floor. Lewis proved to be a consistent force in the Huskies' bar lineup, scoring 9.700 in five of eight meets. Levesque will count on Lewis to continue leading by example and be a positive influence on the younger classes, as she is considered one of the team's hardest workers.

Another of the team's hardest and most focused workers is the lone junior on the squad, Kelly McDonald. McDonald had a dynamic sophomore season, setting the Husky all-around record score with a 39.825 against Arizona State and recording only the third perfect 10 on the vault in Husky history. She has struggled with a heel injury during fall workouts and will be counted on heavily in the all-around if her injury does not hold her back.

The sophomore class is much improved from last year and will be counted on heavily this season. Chelsea Bakken should be the head of the class and has been identified by Coach Levesque and her teammates as the one member on the team who will be the biggest surprise this season.

'She is going to do really well on all four events,' says Levesque about Bakken. 'She came back in great shape and is really strong right now. Kids really look up to her now because she is really infectious as far as her attitude. She will be a real leader this year and into the future.'

Returning sophomores Tori Quandt and Darcee Schiller could also factor into the lineup. Quandt figures to compete in the floor and vault all year, while Schiller will add depth in the bars and vault. Sophomore transfer Lily Le has been a nice find for the Huskies and will figure in the vault, floor and beam lineup. Le, who competed for Southeast Missouri State last season, could be called upon to score for the Huskies in the all-around.

Another second-year Husky, Nikki Waiss, competed in one meet as a freshman last year before utilizing a redshirt season. Waiss has struggled with a shin injury but will be a permanent starter in the vault and bars lineup when healthy.

Last but definitely not least, the Huskies will need several of their seven true freshmen to emerge and crack the lineup. That should not be a problem as Coach Levesque estimates what the group lacks in experience, they easily compensate for in talent.

Among the seven freshmen, Brittney Brabec and Raimey Islen stood out in fall workouts. Brabec shined both on a talent level and leadership role. She is expected to make an immediate impact on the bars and beam and may be called upon to score in the all-around. Islen also emerged as an all-around candidate and at the very least will contribute to the floor and bars lineup.

The other freshmen filling roles for the Huskies are Natalie Gillian, who emerged as a strong candidate on the floor and vault. Canadian import Julie Mederios will crack the beam and vault lineup, while Jessica Brown could make an impact on the beam if she can overcome off-season wrist surgery. Camille Primous is one of the strongest girls on the team and should be in the bars lineup, while Jennifer Chang has a chance to compete on the bars and beam for Washington.

As a whole, Levesque sees the team gelling together nicely. The strength of the squad should be on the floor and the beam, which is an about face from last season. Perhaps that's a good sign, as the Huskies top event last year ended up costing them a shot at the NCAA Championships.

'Last year one of our strongest event was bars,' Levesque remembers. 'What's funny about each season and each event is that from year to year your strongest events may become your weakest events. This year we aren't going to struggle on bars, but it will not be our best.'

The Huskies will have to perform their best this year if they expect to meet their ultimate goal of reaching the NCAA Championships. Their schedule is unforgiving, laced with top-caliber competition, but Levesque isn't worried about who is on the other side of the mat. He is more concerned about avoiding the highs and lows of last season.

'We don't even look at the team's who we face,' explains Levesque. 'We are just going to do what we do. We don't have an offense or a defense, we do what we do period. It's not about win-loss records, it's about scores.'And for the Huskies, the higher the scores, the better.

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