Arizona Gymnastics Opens 2002 Season at Maui Invitational
Jan. 2, 2002
What's Coming Up- The No. 17 Arizona women's gymnastics team opens the 2002 season on Friday, Jan. 4 when the Wildcats travel to Maui, Hawaii to face Oklahoma, Michigan, and Sacramento State in the Maui Invitational. The meet is set to begin at 6:00 p.m. HST (10:00 p.m. MST) at the War Memorial Gym, in Wailuku, Hawaii. The Wildcats open the year with 12 returning letterwinners, and six freshman newcomers. Arizona looks to improve upon its 2001 regular season record (5-15), and the Wildcats expect seniors Lindsay Compitello, Nicci Filchner, and Randi Liljenquist to provide Arizona with solid leadership and experience in all four events this season. On the opponent side, Oklahoma, Michigan and Sacramento State are all set to compete for the first time this season. Friday's season-opener marks the second season in a row that Arizona opens the season on the road and against a non-Pac-10 opponent.
Scouting Oklahoma- The Oklahoma Sooners open the 2002 season as the 13th-ranked team in the nation and the squad has eight returning letterwinners and five freshman newcomers. Oklahoma closed out the 2001 season with a 21-11 record. The team finished second at the regional meet and finished the 2001 season ranked 10th nationally. Head coach Steve Nunno (Massachusetts, 1979) begins his second season at the helm of the Sooners.
Scouting Michigan- The Wolverines of Michigan open the 2002 season as the third ranked team in the nation. Michigan has 10 returning all-americans, including three returning letterwinners from 2001, and five freshman newcomers. Michigan finished the 2001 season with a 15-7 record, including a perfect 9-0 Big-Ten conference record and first-place conference finish. The team finished first at the regional meet and finished third at the national championship meet behind UCLA (first) and Georgia (second). Head coach Bev Plocki (West Virginia, 1987) begins her 13th season with Michigan and holds a career record of 228-69. Plocki is a six-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, four-time NCAA Regional Coach of the Year and 1994 National Coach of the Year.
Scouting Sacramento State- The Sacramento State Hornets enter the Maui Invitational as the only unranked team in the meet. The Hornets finished 12-6 last season, and placed first at the Western Independent Conference Championship. Sacramento State will leave the independent ranks for the first time since 1994 to join the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation this season. The Hornets have 10 returning letterwinners from 2001 and six freshman newcomers. Head coach Kim Hughes enters her 19th year with the Hornets and has a career record of 158-156-1.
Arizona's 2002 Outlook
Riding on 15 consecutive postseason appearances entering the 2002 season, it is obvious where the Arizona women's gymnastics team plans to be at the end of the year. With 12 returning letterwinners, including an All-American, and six freshman newcomers, the Wildcats are ready to make a trip to their 16th consecutive postseason appearance.
After ending the 2001 campaign ranked No. 18 in the country and finishing .100 of a point away from a NCAA Championship berth, Arizona will rely on a combination of teamwork, leadership and determination to make a run at the 2002 NCAA Championship in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Head coach Bill Ryden is confident that his team will restore the programs national top-10 status for the first time in six years. With three seniors, a lone, eight sophomores and six freshmen, the Wildcats possess a good mix of youth and experience that should make them competitive throughout the season.
'Our gymnasts are definitely ready for the challenge of the upcoming season,' Ryden. 'Our team received a big wake up call last year when we missed Nationals by .100 of a point. This season our gymnasts are more prepared and ready to handle the pressure of tough collegiate competition.'
Although the Wildcats lost seniors Heather Straccia, Mary Reiss, and Kara Fry, the 2001 South Central Regional Gymnast of the Year, Arizona has replaced the veteran leadership from last year's group with an influx of young, promising talent.
'Our seniors did a wonderful job providing a leadership role for our team last year,' said Ryden. 'It is always difficult to replace gymnasts with the level of skill and leadership that our seniors possessed, but our freshman and underclassmen are coming on strong and really working hard for this program.'
Returning for her fourth and final season with the Wildcats, senior All-American Randi Liljenquist is coming off a strong junior season where she made her second career appearance at the NCAA Championships. Also returning to the Wildcats' roster are fellow seniors Lindsay Compitello and Nicci Filchner, who along with Liljenquist, will serve as tri-captains for the squad.
'As tri-captains, I expect our seniors to really provide a strong example for the younger gymnasts this year,' said Ryden. 'Leadership definitely comes from the top, and this group of gymnasts certainly has the leadership we need to succeed as a team'
The Wildcats return many key gymnasts from last year's unit, including junior Nikki Beyschau, and sophomores Aimee Estella, Andi McCabe and Cori Messina. Arizona also adds six freshmen who have a chance to compete in the all-around this season.
'Depth is certainly something we do not lack this season,' said Ryden. 'Gymnastics is a tough sport where injuries often come up and cause problems. This season, we are fortunate to have a young, talented group of gymnasts who are all able to succeed at the collegiate level.'
Arizona will face a strong non-conference schedule in 2002, which includes perennial powerhouses Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma. Life in the Pac-10 gets no easier for the Wildcats, as they take on the conference's best in UCLA, Stanford, Oregon State, Washington and Arizona State. The Cats also will do a fair amount of traveling this season, opening the year in Hawai'i at the Maui Invitational, and then traveling to Oregon State, Oklahoma and Utah. Arizona will hold five meets in McKale Center, ending the regular season at home in a quadrangular meet against Minnesota, Northern Illinois and Washington. Arizona will then travel to Stanford, Calif., for the Pac-10 Championships.
'Our main goal here at Arizona is to become one of the top gymnastics programs in the nation,' said Ryden. 'You do not become the best if you do not compete against the best, and our team will definitely have its shot this season at competing and possibly beating the best the nation has to offer.'
The task of making UA's 16 straight postseason appearance this year rests on the shoulders of Arizona's three senior captains. Seniors Lindsay Compitello, Nicci Filchner and Randi Liljenquist will provide vital veteran leadership for the Cats, whose roster is composed of 14 underclassmen.
'The seniors have been impressive in their preseason workouts,' said Ryden. 'I expect all three of them to lead through example and have the best year of their careers.'
Coming off her second appearance at the NCAA Championships, All-American Randi Liljenquist led the team last season with 12 individual event titles, including three all-around championships, and 35 top-five finishes. Liljenquist will carry the load for the Wildcats in the all-around, as she is poised to continue her NCAA championship form.
'Randi is in the best condition of her career,' said Ryden. 'She is working extremely hard in the gym to upgrade all four of her routines and is primed to have a great senior season.'
Lindsay Compitello is still working hard on beam, and is also training on bars and floor for Arizona this season after primarily competing on beam last year. The Scholastic All-American and Mary Roby Award recipient contributed nicely for the Cats last year and looks to add solid performances in more events for the team this season.
'Lindsay leads in the gym with a determined work ethic that has earned her a definite spot in the lineup,' said Ryden. 'She embodies the leadership that this team needs out of our seniors and will play a huge role in our success as a team this year.'
After recovering from three shoulder surgeries, senior Nicci Filchner emerges as one of the most experienced members on the team. Filchner has been the UA's most consistent bar worker for the past two seasons, and she holds the No. 9 score on Arizona's all-time top-10 bars list (9.900).
'Nicci has overcome many hurdles that have tried to derail an outstanding collegiate career,' said Ryden. 'She is a hard worker and tremendous competitor who should lead our team on bars this season.'
Arizona's lone junior, Nikki Beyschau, has provided solid vault and bar performances for the Wildcats during the past two seasons. Beyschau, the Wildcats' top recruiting choice in 1999, competed in all 13 meets as a freshman, and she posted 22 top-five performances, including a bars event title. Beyschau had nine top-five finishes last season, including two vault titles and one bars event title.
'If Nikki can stay healthy, I see her returning to her freshman form where she produced terrifically on vault and on bars,' said Ryden. 'She has already assumed somewhat of a leadership role on our squad and should lead us on vault and bars this season.'
Arizona will rely heavily on its sophomores this year, as the second-year class accounts for eight of the team's 18 members. After a great freshman year, sophomore Andi McCabe looks to continue her success this season in the all-around. McCabe ended the 2001 season with seven top-five finishes, and she tied UA's No. 10 all-time individual mark on vault (9.850).
'Andi had an outstanding freshman year for us last season,' said Ryden. 'We didn't expect her to emerge as an all-around competitor, but she worked her way into competing in all four events last season, which is a significant accomplishment for a freshman.'
Fellow sophomores Cori Messina and Aimee Estella also look to improve upon impressive freshman campaigns by competing in the all-around. Messina closed the season with three top-five finishes, while Estella won a vault title and earned two top-five finishes, before being sidelined with an ACL injury.
'Cori competed for us in three events last year and is one of our most consistent performers,' said Ryden. 'She is dynamic in her tumbling and her vaulting and should put up some big scores for us this season.'
'Aimee had a great freshman year before her season was cut short due to a knee injury,' said Ryden. 'She will concentrate on bars initially and expand to the other events as the year progresses.'
Sophomores Sheehan Lemley and Meagan Killpack will add much needed depth to the Arizona lineup. Lemley, who earned a top-five finish for the Wildcats last year, and Killpack, a former walk on, will compete in the all-around this season.
'Sheehan and Meagan were pleasant surprises for our team last year as freshmen,' said Ryden. 'Both gymnasts should contribute nicely during the season.'
Sophomores Amanda Goins, Alli Hay and Sarah Galecki, all former walk-ons, have greatly improved upon their skills after one season. Goins will focus her training on floor, vault and beam, while Galecki and Hay will focus on bars and floor. All three gymnasts will contribute to the team's depth as the Wildcats make their move into the postseason.
'Amanda, Alli and Sarah are great athletes who have an outstanding work ethic,' said Ryden. 'They did not see significant action last season, but that can certainly change this year.'
In 2002, The Wildcats add six freshmen to a roster already deep with experienced gymnasts. Level 10 competitors Monica Bisordi, Jamie Duce, Kristine Harper, Katie Johnson, Jamie Schell and Stevie Fanning will provide the team with a little extra spark. All six gymnasts have competed at the national level and they are ready to make an immediate impact.
'Our incoming class is large and has a lot of raw talent,' said Ryden. 'These freshmen field the strongest class we have had since 1996. All of our newcomers have some national championship competition experience, and I will expect many of them to step in and compete in all four events for our team this year.'
This freshman class shows Arizona's recruiting ability, as each gymnast hails from a different state. Each gymnast will be given significant roles on the squad this season, as they make their transition into collegiate gymnastics.
'The best thing about freshmen is that you never know what is going to happen when they are out there competing,' said Ryden. 'This group of freshmen is extremely hard working and exciting. I can see many of them lifting our team and succeeding in their first year at Arizona.'
According to Head Coach Bill Ryden
Vault - 'Our performance on vault has the biggest impact on our score in any given meet. We did a solid job last year in this event, but we have improved greatly this season and have a nice chance of being recognized nationally. This is an event which we have great depth, and so far we have looked extremely strong in our workouts.'
Uneven Bars- 'We are not as strong as a team at bars as we are in some of the other events. Our team has the capability to go out and put up 49's on the board each night. Nicci Filchner will have a big part in our success on bars this season, and freshman Jamie Duce will add much-needed depth to our bar rotation. I think if we continue to work hard in workouts, we will be able to make bars a steady event.'
Balance Beam - 'This year's team has some of the best beam talent I have seen in a long time. Last season, beam cost us some close meets. We lost one of the best in the country on beam in Kara Fry, but we have worked hard and have made beam one of our strongest events. Our goal as a team is to go 6-for-6 on beam and walk away with solid performances each time out.'
Floor Exercise- 'Floor was without a doubt our best event last year. We look to be just as good if not better this season. We have some excellent floor workers on our team. Our gymnasts are very fun to watch and are successful at turning even the judges into spectators during the meets. Randi (Liljenquist), who is one of the best in the country, will lead our team in this event. We have some great performers, including some outstanding freshmen who I guarantee will turn some heads this year in this event.'
All-Around- 'We should be pretty competitive this year in the all-around. We have some great athletes who are able to perform at a high level on each event each night out. Randi (Liljenquist) is one of our best in the all-around, and Andi (McCabe) did an excellent job with it last year. I see both continuing their role in the all-around this year. Although it is a difficult task, I can see some of our freshmen stepping in and competing in this event. All of our freshmen have the talent to compete and succeed in the all-around for us this season.'
Wildcats in the Rankings- Arizona closed out the 2001 season ranked No.18 in the nation after the team finished third at the NCAA regional meet. Nine of the Arizona's opponents in 2002 are ranked in the preseason coaches' poll. Six Pac-10 teams- UCLA (1), Stanford (8), Arizona State (9), Oregon State (10), Arizona (17) and Washington (19) are ranked in the preseason top-25.
Cat Scratches- Arizona head coach Bill Ryden is in his forth year at the helm of the program (12th overall at Arizona) and holds a 30-51-1 career and school record. Arizona ended the 2001with a 9-22 overall record and missed qualifying as a team for the NCAA Championship for the fifth consecutive season by .100 of a point.
A look Ahead- Arizona will hold its first home meet of the 2002 season on Friday, Jan. 11, when the Cats take on Brown University and Boise State at 7:30 p.m. (MST) in the McKale Center.