2004 Arizona State Gymnastics Outlook

Dec. 15, 2003

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Can the 2004 Arizona State Gymnastics team better its 2003 season, which saw countless records fall and the team earn a return trip to the NCAA Championships? If you asked that question to anyone associated with the Sun Devil squad, the answer would be a resounding yes. From the leadership presence of four outstanding seniors down to the addition of three phenomenal freshmen, ASU looks to do some major damage in 2004 as it shoots for a place back in the nation's Super Six.

Coming off of a year that saw the Sun Devils break records in every event and notch eight individual perfect 10.0 scores, expectations are fairly great for this year. Two-time All-American Maggie Germaine leads the talented senior quartet which also includes Jada Cox, Carla DeMartini and Amber Giorgianni. The lone junior for the Devils in '04 is Kari Muth, whose unquestioned consistency and dancing ability maker her one of the most exciting floor artists in the country. Trisha Dixon, who was to be a junior, is slated for a medical redshirt in 2004. The underclassmen will play an equally big role in the upcoming season, and 23rd-year Arizona State head coach John Spini thinks the incoming freshmen may be the spark to the team's success in 2004.

'I really think this year's squad will be a very strong team,' said Spini. 'If I was to take it step-by-step as far as classes, I think the key to our success will be our freshmen. We need them to perform after losing three quality seniors,' (Ashley Ellsberry, Cassidy Vreeke and Margaret Wojciak).

The incoming trio of April Boone, Cassandra Jusino and Lisa Lanza will have that responsibility on their shoulders and are prepped to handle the work. Not to be forgotten are the sophomores of this year's squad, led by Ashley Kelly, one of the nation's top freshmen in 2003. Kelly, the school record holder in the all-around, leads an accomplished cast of second-year performers that includes Lauren Powell and Tiffany Van Dusen.

Following is an event-by-event breakdown of the 2004 Arizona State Gymnastics team.

Heading into nationals last year the Sun Devils were ranked eighth nationally on bars, and that was their lowest national ranking in any event. A stronger bars lineup this year bodes well for a deeper run into the NCAAs. Kelly, ranked seventh nationally last year, comes off a season in which she averaged 9.830 and recorded a perfect 10.0 on her bars routine against Kentucky. Kelly scored less than a 9.825 only twice during the season and scored 9.900 or better on an incredible nine occasions.

Kelly or Germaine (9.636 avg.) are possible anchors in this event with Kari Muth also returning who averaged 9.815 in 2003. Amber Giorgianni (9.696 avg.) was a regular on bars who is also returning.

The performance of the incoming class will be important in this discipline to help offset the losses of Ellsberry and Wojciak, both integral parts of last season's lineup. Lanza's natural ability on bars gives her the possibility of stepping into a vital role right away while Boone and Jusino could find themselves in the lineup on a regular basis.

'This event will be very similar to last year, but with a little more strength' said Spini. 'Lisa Lanza, our local student-athlete coming in, is a standout on uneven bars and could definitely push for that anchor position with Ashley Kelly and Maggie Germaine. I think depth-wise we are going to be very strong and this event could be better than last year if not one of the best years that we've ever had in terms of talent.'

The Sun Devils were 9-0 last year when they won on vault and if the same pattern holds true this year, 2004 should be a very good season. Spini has a surfeit of talent available at vault and Germaine returns as the leader from 2003 after averaging 9.879 for the season. The rest of the senior class looks to give support with DeMartini (9.827 avg.), Cox (9.748 avg.)-the 2002 team leader for vault average-and Giorgianni looking to solidify themselves in the rotation. Kelly boasted a 9.820 average in 2003 and, along with Germaine, notched a perfect 10.0 in the event, the first perfect scores on vault for ASU since 1998.

Youth should not be a problem here with the incoming freshmen already accomplished in this discipline. The newcomers are led by Jusino, the 2002 Junior Olympic National Champion on vault. The possibility of being even better in this event sounds pretty good when you consider that the Devils were ranked sixth in the country last year on vault.

'Vaulting is going to be deeper and is an area where we will be as strong as or stronger than last year; and we were very good last year,' said Spini. 'All the seniors will do very well and the freshmen coming in vault well. Plus we have some strength with Ashley Kelly and Lauren Powell and walkon Donna Chance.'

Balance Beam
Balance beam is an area of concern for Spini, as it was prior to the 2003 season. Yet, if 2004 plays out at all like 2003 did, the coaching staff has nothing to worry about. The Sun Devils excelled on beam, lost the event only three times, and were ranked second in the country going into the NCAAs. The loss of Ellsberry (9.834 avg.) and Vreeke (9.730 avg.) necessitates some of the team's young stars to step in and fill the gap, as only four returners saw regular action on beam last year.

Kelly, ranked seventh in the nation last year, is the returning leader for the Devils here after averaging a 9.904. She recorded a 9.900 or better 10 times during the campaign. Behind her is Muth, an always consistent performer who comes in after averaging a 9.820. Germaine's ability here is unquestioned, proven by the fact that she notched a perfect 10.0 versus NCAA champion UCLA. Her season average of 9.734 is third-highest among returners. Giorgianni's (9.655 avg.) leadership spark will be needed here to help with the underclassmen who will be relied upon for good performances.

Powell and Van Dusen will be looked at to step into roles on the beam in their second year in Tempe and newcomer Boone is the most likely freshman to step in immediately and have an impact. Walkon Donna Chance is proficient on this event, too.

'A big reason that we have always been ranked as one of the top in the nation in this event is because of assistant coach Bruce McGehee and he's back,' said Spini. 'We need to make sure that our freshmen do a great job here. We look forward to Tiffany Van Dusen to come in and help us and possibly Lauren Powell. Ashley Kelly scored a 10.0 in this event and she will be very strong and our seniors Amber and Maggie will both help out in many ways in this event. Then you have Kari Muth who has been so solid for us the last couple of years. We have a quality six or seven people here, but after that we'll have to see where it appears in training.'

Floor Exercise
This event is one that features one of the best floor artists in the country in Germaine, a returning All-American in this discipline. She averaged a 9.941 in 2003 and went into the NCAAs ranked second in the nation. The Mesa, Ariz., native scored below a 9.900 only twice during the season and notched perfect 10.0s in two consecutive meets in March.

The departed duo of Ellsberry and Vreeke in this event-each of whom averaged over 9.800-will be missed, but Spini has plenty of depth at his disposal to try and recapture the No. 4 ranking that the floor team achieved last season. Kelly averaged a 9.798 in 2003 and she returns as the second-leading floor participant with DeMartini behind her (9.725 avg.). Muth's reputation as one of the best dancers in the country brings added style to this discipline and she carries a 9.680 average from a year ago. Van Dusen saw limited action her freshman season, but did average 9.850 in four meets, a promising sign of what she brings to the table in 2004.

The incoming freshmen will definitely not be onlookers during the floor exercise as Boone and Jusino should be able to contribute right away, if not Lanza as well.

Combine all of this talent with the fantastic choreography of assistant coach Shelly Eaton and ASU is a formidable force on the floor.

'Again, depth-wise, we're going to be very good,' said Spini. 'I think we have some exciting floor workers coming in, with Cassandra Jusino being particularly impressive. With Maggie Germaine and the rest of our returners, this will be an event that will be as strong as or stronger than last year, and most of the year we were ranked in the top-five in this event. We'll continue to do great things. Shelly Eaton, who returns for her third year, is definitely one of the most outstanding choreographers and floor coaches in the country right now so we're very happy with that.'

That said, the 2004 campaign promises to be one of the best season's in an ASU gymnastics history that is chock full of great performances and memories.

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