GymDawgs Open 2007 at No. 5 UCLA

Jan. 3, 2007

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The Meet: First-year head coach Joanne Bowers will get a first look at her Washington gymnastics team in action Saturday when the Huskies travel to Los Angeles, Calif., for the 2007 season opener at fifth-ranked UCLA. The Huskies, who were among those teams receiving votes in the GymInfo Preseason Coaches' Poll released Dec. 1, enter the 2007 season full of optimism, with 10 returning letterwinners and a talented freshman class. Live stats of Saturday's meet will be available at www.uclabruins.com.

Huskies At A Glance: Washington returns 10 of 11 letterwinners from a young 2006 squad, which missed qualifying for the NCAA Regional Championships for the first time in its 35-year history. That youth, however, returns in 2007 as experience, while the team's seniors have embraced their role as leaders. Certain to be among the leading contenders for regional and national-meet berths is sophomore Ashley Houghting, UW's top vaulter as a freshman and a gymnast expected to make significant contributions in the all-around in 2007. Sophomore Kristen Omori scored 9.850s or higher on both vault and floor in 2006, and is expected to be a factor in the all-around by year's end, while senior Chelsea Bakken posted an RQS of 38.495 last year, and should be in the top-three for UW on every event. Washington will also lean heavily on junior Natalie Gillan, an outstanding vaulter and strong all-around performer, as well as junior bar workers Raimey Iselin and Nikki Waiss, and sophomore beam specialist Kelly Gilbert. 'The names on the roster are the same as they were last year, but this isn't the same team,' Bowers says. 'They're more confident, and more prepared, and are excited to take the first step in returning Washington gymnastics to the level it should be.'

Bruins At A Glance: Washington faces a formidable foe in its first test of the 2007 season. UCLA returns three All-Americans from its 2006 squad, including 2000 U.S. Olympian Tasha Schwikert, 2006 NCAA vault runner-up Kristina Comforte and All-American Jordan Schwikert. The Huskies will be seeking their first victory over UCLA since 2004, when Washington earned a 197.225-197.100 victory over the visiting Bruins in head-to-head competition in Seattle. UCLA has won seven-straight meetings between the two teams since, and is 17-0 all-time against the Huskies in Los Angeles.

Meet the Coaches: Washington is fortunate to have an outstanding trio of first-year coaches in 2007, including head coach Joanne Bowers (James Madison, `82) and assistant coaches Shanna Duggan (Michigan, `05) and David McCreary (Illinois State, `78). Bowers has amassed impressive credentials as an assistant coach at Michigan from 2002-06, coaching 13 All-Americans and four Big Ten champions, while helping guide the Wolverines to five-straight NCAA Championships appearances. Duggan, who assists with UW's beam, floor and vault efforts, also brings a winning attitude to Washington after a stellar collegiate career during which she earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, and was an Academic All-American. McCreary, meanwhile, has placed several gymnasts on the U.S. National Team during a distinguished 20-year coaching career at the club level, and will assist with UW's bars, vault and tumbling efforts.

Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire: Washington received no favors from the schedule-makers in 2007, as the team tries to rebound strong from a challenging 2006 campaign. Eight of the Huskies' 12 listed regular-season opponents are ranked in the GymInfo Preseason Top-25, including No. 2 Utah, No. 5 UCLA, No. 8 Stanford, No. 11 Arizona State, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 16 Arizona and No. 21 Minnesota. Furthermore, of the four unranked opponents, two -- Utah State and California -- joined the Huskies in the 'also receiving votes' category. A difficult schedule is nothing the Huskies aren't used to, however -- in 2006, 18 of Washington's 28 opponents boasted top-20 rankings at the time of their meeting, including all but one of the Huskies' six Pac-10 Conference foes.

Huskies Come Out Strong in Purple-Gold Meet: Sophomore Ashley Houghting won two events and Raimey Iselin a third as the Purple team defeated the Gold in the 2006 Purple-Gold Intrasquad gymnastics meet, Dec. 3 at Bank of America Arena. Due to the limited number of competitors on each team, only the top-two individual scores were counted on each event, as opposed to the standard five. After trailing at the end of each of the first three rotations, Purple posted the highest team score of the day on the floor exercise to edge their Gold counterparts by less than a point, 77.775-77.125. Houghting led the Purple comeback with wins in each of the final two events, scoring a 9.775 on beam and a 9.850 on floor. Iselin won on bars with a 9.700, while junior Natalie Gillan captured the vault with a score of 9.800. A junior from Denver, Colo., who missed much of last season due to injury, Gillan was also the meet's all-around champion, edging seniors Chelsea Bakken and Tori Quandt with a 38.325 score.

'I was really happy with how everything went,' said first-year head coach Joanne Bowers. 'We didn't hit every routine, but you never expect to in an intrasquad. What we wanted was to see our girls have fun, and to give them an opportunity to perform their routines in front of the fans and get everyone excited for the season. There's definitely still a lot of work to do, but I'm excited about where we are as a team.'

Dazzling Debut: Sophomore Ashley Houghting had an outstanding freshman season in 2006, her eight individual vault titles the fourth-most ever by a Husky freshman. Houghting's eight vault wins also tied her for the sixth-most on the apparatus in UW history. In fact, the freshman phenom was defeated on the apparatus just three times in 2006, out of 11 total competitions. Houghting, who has added an all-around component to her repetoire this season, finished the 2006 season ranked 11th nationally on vault with a RQS of 9.895.

That's Omori: Sophomore Kristen Omori made quite a splash in her first season as a Husky. Although she won just one individual title (floor vs. Cal on Feb. 17), she emerged as one of the Huskies most consistent performers. Omori competed on vault, beam and floor in all 12 meets, the only Husky to do so. Her scores were stellar during that span, too, as the Kirkland, Wash., native scored a 9.7 or higher in 32 of those 36 routines. She has yet to score below a 9.725 on vault and has only scored below a 9.725 on floor once, in her first collegiate meet. Omori finished the 2006 season ranked 12th in the Pac-10 on vault, 20th on beam, and 17th on floor.

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