2006 Gymnastics Season Preview
Dec. 28, 2005
Husky gymnastics coach Bob Levesque isn't getting much sleep these days. With numerous injuries to the core of his team, all suffered before the Huskies even step on the mat for their first competition, one can hardly blame Levesque for having sleepless nights.
Besides having to replace all-around competitor and team leader Carly Dockendorf and three other graduated seniors, Levesque's squad has been hit with a severe case of the injury bug. With the season's first competition in Hawaii on Jan. 3 looming, the Huskies will ring in the New Year with just 13 healthy competitors. And healthy is a term used loosely.
Entering fall camp, 15 of the 16 Huskies on the roster arrived on campus fighting some kind of nagging injury. Compounding the problem, the squad was decimated losing 20 percent of the team's scholarship athletes due to injuries during fall camp. Levesque, who has guided the Huskies for 15 seasons, will definitely start the season off behind the proverbial eight ball.
'It's going to be tough,' lamented Levesque about the upcoming season. 'If we can get healthy as we go along we're going to be okay. You never know what's going to happen. The very first year we went to nationals in 1994 we were really hurting at the beginning of the year.'
It may not be too much of a stretch to think the Huskies can repeat 1994. Despite losses due to graduation and injuries, the cupboard is not completely bare for the Huskies. Washington will be led by captains Kelly McDonald and Chelsea Bakken and a talented group of underclassmen that may just give the Huskies the edge they need to make it back to the NCAA Championships.
The Lone Senior
McDonald, the lone senior on the squad, will be a counted on to be the Huskies stalwart on beam and bars. As the only senior on the squad, she will also be looked upon to fill the leadership gap left when Dockendorf, Molly Seaman, Tacia LaBatte and Kim Lewis graduated.
McDonald, who is recovering from her heel surgery over the summer, was relegated to just the beam and bars in 2004. Unless the pain disappears from her heel quickly, she will have the same role in 2005.
'Kelly had surgery on her heel in the summer to try and alleviate some of the pain she has there, but it didn't work as exactly planned,' said Levesque. 'I don't think she'll get vault and floor back, but if she does, it would be great.'
Getting McDonald back into the all-around lineup would be a huge lift for the Huskies. The team's depth took a huge hit when it was learned in early December that Brittney Brabec, a potential all-arounder for the Huskies, was going to be miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on her left arm.
Stepping into the role of all-arounder for the Huskies will be junior Chelsea Bakken. Bakken, who shared the team's 2004 Most Improved Gymnast honors with Tori Quandt, will add bars back to her repertoire this season to compete in the all-around.
The Mesa, Arizona native is the Huskies top returnee on floor and vault after averaging a 9.768 and 9.7068 respectively in those events. She also earned her first three career individual titles during the season and will be counted on to add to those totals for the Huskies.
'Chelsea will do real well for us,' said Levesque. 'She is doing all-around and she did well for us last year. She's one of our team captains and the younger kids look up to her.'
Joining Bakken to form the junior class are Quandt and Darcee Schiller. The duo will be expected to increase their roles on the team in 2006 and both seem up for the challenge.
Schiller, who hails from the same Canadian club team as Dockendorf, has made huge strides in the off-season and worked herself into the regular vault and bars lineup. She competed in the final five meets for the Huskies on vault in 2005 and will also be counted on to fight for a spot as a regular floor competitor in 2006.
'Darcee is doing well,' said Coach Levesque. 'She is doing the same vault she did last year and she has a new floor routine where she does two double-backs.'
Quandt, who was the team's Most Inspirational Gymnast along with the Most Improved, stepped in valiantly for the Huskies in 2005. She was in the floor lineup for the Huskies' final four meets, including the Pac-10's and NCAA West Regional, scoring a career-high 9.775 against Boise State.
The Huskies will be without their fourth and final third-year competitor, Nicole Waiss. The redshirt-sophomore will miss the entire 2006 season after rupturing her right anterior cruciate ligament early in December. Waiss was a regular in the beam and vault lineup and was going to be counted on to continue that role for the Huskies before suffering her injury.
The Huskies welcomed six incoming freshman to the squad in 2005. Of those six all but Jessica Brown, who redshirted with a shoulder injury, saw action for the UW. This year, the squad welcomes back Brown, but will be without Brabec (Tommy John surgery) and Julie Medeiros (stress fracture on left navicular bone in her foot) due to season-ending injuries.
Brabec was expected to compete all-around for the Huskies, so with her out, that duty will squarely fall on the shoulders of fellow sophomore Natalie Gillan. As a freshman, Gillan emerged as one of the Huskies top vaulters and returns as one of two vaulters to score a 9.9 or better on the apparatus last season.
Gillan, who hails from Denver, Colo., competed all-around only once last season but was in the Husky vault and floor lineup for every meet. She also cracked the beam lineup for the final three meets, including the Pac-10 Championships and NCAA West Regionals and performed on bars three times for the Huskies during the early stages of the season.
The Huskies will also count on contributions from their two sophomore walkons, Raimey Iselin and Jennifer Chang. Iselin has emerged as one of the Huskies top bar performers and was also a mainstay in the floor lineup. You can expect to see her in the same role this year and she has also added vault to her repertoire.
Chang will be counted on to provide depth on beam and also may break into the bars lineup. Another asset she adds to the Huskies is leadership and Levesque has pegged her as an emerging leader.
'Jenny is really a great kid,' said Levesque. 'I really enjoy having her on the team. For her age, she is very mature and very team oriented.'
Canadian Julie Medeiros was slated to be in the beam lineup, but will miss this year as she rests a stress fracture in her left foot.
The aforementioned Brown has come on strong for the Huskies and seems to be healing well from her shoulder surgery. She will be a regular in the beam and floor lineup for the Huskies, and if all goes well, Levesque could use her on vault and bars.
'Jessica Brown is coming back very well for us,' said the coach about her return from injury. 'She was real religious about doing her rehab and is fine now. She may be an all-arounder by the end of the season.'
The Huskies will have five true freshmen on their roster. With injuries and lack of depth, at least three will see significant action for the Huskies.
Ashley Houghting of Welland, Ontario has seamlessly morphed from highly touted prospect to impact newcomer. She will be thrown right into the fire and compete all-around for the Huskies and Coach Levesque expects her to emerge as one of the top vault and beam performers out of the gate.
'Ashley is a stud,' said Levesque. 'She is going to do all-around for us and she is really a strong kid.'
Not far behind Houghting is Kristen Omori. Omori, from nearby Kirkland, Wash., is projected to be one of the Huskies top floor, beam and vault performers. Levesque feels that she needs a couple more release moves on bars before she joins the logjam of potential all-arounders.
'Kristen works extremely hard and has some really good skills,' said Levesque. 'She and Ashley will be our anchors on vault.'
The third scholarship freshman on the roster, Kelly Gilbert, appears to have a world of ability on beam and floor. Levesque feels she needs to work on the power events like vault and bars, but she has a shot of competing in both events this season.
Rounding out the Huskies roster is a pair of walk-ons. Katie Boyko, from Kelso, Wash., might have trouble cracking the lineup this year, but Levesque expects her to do real well for the Huskies down the road. Emily Epsten is in the same boat as Boyko and may be called upon to do some vaulting for the Huskies.
Hoping For Health
With a roster full of the walking-wounded and a grueling early-season schedule that includes home meets right out of the gate against Utah and UCLA, Levesque says it's safe to say that this year will be one of the more challenging during his coaching tenure at Washington. With that said, the Huskies are not going to back down.
'Our goals are always to make nationals,' said Levesque about a feat the Huskies haven't accomplished since 1998. 'It could be fun if everyone gets healed up so we can start competing and training more consistently and be at a pain-free level so we're not scrambling for a lineup.
'I'm not giving up on this season by any means. It's just going to be a hard season. Everyone is going to have to realize that they are going to have to do their part to make it successful. (We can be) if we just progress and start getting a little healthier. And no more injuries! We'll cross our fingers.'