What's Coming Up - The No. 20 Arizona women's gymnastics team opens the 2001 season on Sunday, Jan. 14 when the Wildcats travel to Raleigh, N.C., to face North Carolina State, James Madison and New Hampshire in Arizona's first of four quadrangular meets this season... The meet is set to begin at 2 p.m. EST (12 p.m. MST) in North Carolina State's Reynolds Coliseum (12,400)... Arizona opens the year with eight returning letterwinners, including junior All-American Randi Liljenquist, and eight freshman newcomers who have been added into the Wildcat mix... This weekend's meet marks the first of a three-meet roadswing for the Wildcats, and all three of the competitions are quad meets... Arizona looks to improve upon its 2000 regular season record (5-10), and the Wildcats expect Liljenquist, sophomore Nikki Beyschau and senior All-Pac-10 honoree Kara Fry to provide Arizona with solid leadership and experience in all four events and in the all-around... On the opponent side, North Carolina State and James Madison are set to compete for the first time this season, while New Hampshire opened the year with a 1-0 record after scoring a 191.700-188.375 victory over Rutgers last Sunday... This weekend's season-opener marks the first season in three years that Arizona opens the season on the road and against a non-Pac-10 opponent.
Ryden's Analysis - "I am quietly optimistic about this weekend. We are very young, and we are not exactly sure how the freshmen will react to the competitive setting. We have had four good months of training, and we are healthier than we have been in several years. The gymnasts are ready for the transition from the gym to the actual meet environment, and it is time to get on with the season. This weekend, it is just a matter of going there, staying focused and doing our job against three good teams."
Scouting North Carolina State - The North Carolina State Wolfpack opens the season as the 19th-ranked team, one position above the Wildcats, and the squad has 11 returning letterwinners from the 2000 team... NC State closed out the 2000 season with a 20-8 record, and the squad won its second consecutive EAGL conference title... The team finished fifth at the regional meet but did not qualify for a NCAA championship berth... Head coach Mark Stevenson (Iowa, '78) is in his 21st year with the Wolfpack and holds a 259-151 career and school record.
Scouting James Madison - The Dukes of James Madison open the 2001 season after finishing with a 1-5 overall record last year... James Madison finished first at the ECAC Championships and the Virginia State Championships during the 2000 season... Along with the return of 10 seniors to the squad in 2001, the Dukes will take two juniors, four sophomores and six freshmen to face the field this weekend... Head coach Roger Burke (Cortland State, '84) was named the 1999-2000 ECAC Coach of the Year... Burke is in his eighth season with James Madison and has a 23-48 career and school record.
Scouting New Hampshire - The New Hampshire Wildcats are coming off a 191.700-188.375 win over Rutgers in the team's first meet of the 2001 season... Wildcat gymnasts captured the top spots in all four events and in the all-around... New Hampshire finished 12-5 last season, and the Wildcats placed sixth at the EAGL conference championships... The Wildcats qualified for the NCAA regional meet at Penn State and finished sixth overall... Head coach Gail Goodspeed is in her 22nd year at the helm of the Wildcat program, and she holds a 250-125 career and school record.
Arizona's 2001 Outlook - In a nutshell, the 2001 Arizona women's gymnastics team features youth, talent and enthusiasm. With eight returning letterwinners, including an All-American, and eight freshman newcomers, the Wildcats are poised to make their 15th consecutive trip to the postseason. The Wildcats closed out the 2000 season with a 7-19 overall record and a fourth-place finish at the NCAA Region III Championships. With his team ranked No. 20 in the national preseason coaches' poll, head coach Bill Ryden is confident that the squad's combination of talent, experience, leadership and team work will enable the team to make a legitimate run for the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga. Arizona's returning wealth of talent and the freshmen's youthful enthusiasm will help offset the loss of four seniors - six-time All-American Heidi Hornbeek, Kiernan Andrews, Gretchen Diaz and Lisa Heckel - and sophomore Brooke Stan who retired from the sport for medical reasons. Ryden expects the strong group of returnees to restore the program's national top-10 status for the first time in five years. "The team is very young, but we have more depth than we have had in the last few years," Ryden said. "We are starting a whole new era in Wildcat gymnastics with eight freshmen, but youth can sometimes equal question marks. We expect to experience some growing pains, but there is also a huge upside potential to the influx of youth and energy." Ryden, who enters his third year at the helm of the program and his 11th year overall at Arizona, leads a multi-talented and experienced team into the 2001 season. All-American Randi Liljenquist returns for her third season to provide the team with the veteran leadership that the Wildcats will depend on as they work towards returning to the NCAA Championships for the first time since the 1996 season. Liljenquist and senior Kara Fry, a 1998 All-Pac-10 selection, are on track to post big numbers in the all-around and boost Arizona's overall team score. Although Arizona lost Hornbeek, one of its top all-around performers, sophomore Nikki Beyschau has overcome some nagging injuries during the offseason and looks to pick up some of the scoring in the all-around. Freshmen Cori Messina and Andi McCabe have looked impressive in all four events, and Ryden expects them to add depth in each area, giving the Wildcats five potential all-arounders for the season. "I expect Randi (Liljenquist), Kara (Fry) and Nikki (Beyschau) to lead the Arizona charge, and we just need everyone else to step up and face the challenge this year. Our eight freshmen will also help us with the depth problems we experienced all throughout last season. It is great to have an infusion of talent and youth in the gym, and all of the gymnasts have an opportunity to make a significant impact on the team's overall success," Ryden said. In addition to the program's wealth of leadership and experience, Ryden is also confident that the team's cohesiveness will enable the Wildcats to achieve their top objective - qualifying for a berth to the NCAA Championships. "We are very optimistic about the season ahead," he said. "We are a very experienced team with our four seniors, but we also have eight newcomers who are learning about what it takes to be collegiate gymnasts. Everyone has done a great job of working with each other, and we all are focused on doing whatever will help the team's overall success. We want to get to the national championships, but there is a long road ahead." As the team heads into the season-opener, Arizona's greatest challenge will be to limit the amount of injuries and to develop a strong lineup in each individual event. "Our consistency was down last year, but we have a great deal of depth, and we are healthier now than we have been in the past," Ryden said. "Our team knows that the potential is there to go much farther than we did last season. Although gymnastics may look like an individual sport, the gymnasts realize that it's a team sport." With a tough schedule that boasts the defending NCAA champion UCLA Bruins and the NCAA runner-up Utah Utes, the Wildcats are set to face stiff competition every week. Arizona's schedule includes 10 teams ranked in the 2001 top-25 preseason poll. The UA opens the season in January on the road with three quadrangular meets at North Carolina State, San Jose State and California. The Wildcats have five home meets in 2001 when they will host Utah, Oregon State, Denver, Stanford, Arizona State and North Carolina State. Three of Arizona's last four meets of the regular season are at home before the Wildcats travel to Seattle, Wash., for the Pac-10 Championships. "We obviously hope to have a better win/loss record this season," Ryden said. "But, no easy weekends exist in collegiate gymnastics because if you're not up for the challenge, and you don't get out there and perform well, every other team is good enough to take advantage of that."
The task of reaching the national championship meet will be made easier by the quality of Arizona's senior class, which is led by Kara Fry, Heather Straccia, Mary Reiss and Nicci Filchner. "Each member of the senior class leads in different ways," Ryden said. "The seniors provide us with the great leadership that has helped the team come together as a unit. They have been here for four years, so they know what it takes to be successful, and they are great role models for the younger gymnasts." Fry, a 1998 All-Pac-10 selection, is on target to regain her 1998 NCAA championship form and has increased the level of difficulty in each of her four routines. Fry recorded 25 top-five finishes last season, including two beam titles, and she has proven to be one of Arizona's top all-arounders and a reliable performer for the Cats in all four events. Reiss is training on bars, beam and floor after overcoming a foot injury that kept her sidelined for most of the 2000 season. She was voted the team's captain for the 2001 season, marking the first time Arizona has had a captain since the 1994-95 campaign. Although Reiss has been hampered by injuries throughout her career, she continues to provide a great deal of leadership inside and outside of the gym. Straccia returned to top form last season after recovering from an elbow injury that she suffered in the first meet of the 1999 season. She is on track for another productive season on vault, bars and floor and looks to boost Arizona's scores in the three events. Filchner, who had her third shoulder surgery in May, has focused her training on bars, and she is much more relaxed because there is no evidence of any shoulder pain. After a productive freshman season in 1998, Filchner is on pace to be one of the team's most consistent bar workers this season. "Kara is looking really good in all four events, and she has worked hard to raise the level of difficulty of her routines," Ryden said. "Mary and Heather are each training well in three events, and Nicci is back at full speed, and she will really help strengthen our bars lineup."
All-American Randi Liljenquist was Arizona's top performer last season, recording 40 top-five finishes and winning 17 first-place titles. Liljenquist earned second-team All-America accolades following her 18th-place finish in the all-around at the NCAA Championships. She also was the only Wildcat named to the All-Pac-10 team, earning first-team honors for her performances on beam and in the all-around. Fellow juniors Emily Peterman and Lindsay Compitello, a 1998 walk-on, return to help enhance Arizona's lineup on bars, beam and floor. "Randi was really the story of last year because she was our only gymnast who went to nationals, and she improved after every meet all season long, and her scores were instrumental in boosting the overall team score," Ryden said. "She is really much farther along at this point in the season than she was at the end of last season." "Emily was diagnosed with vertigo following the end of the season, and she is still battling some back problems, but she has been able to train on bars. We are just going to have to wait and see what happens," Ryden said. "Lindsay is coming off a good year, and she competed a lot more than she expected because of our serious depth problems on beam and floor," he said. "She is battling to earn a spot in the lineup this season."
The Wildcats' lone sophomore gymnast, Nikki Beyschau, has added a strong competitive background to Arizona's lineup. Beyschau, Arizona's top recruiting choice in 1999, is a high-quality gymnast who has contributed depth, style and strength in all four events. She competed in all 13 of Arizona's meets last season, but she was unable to compete as an all-arounder in four meets as a result of wrist and shin injuries. Beyschau posted 22 top-five performances, and she captured a bars event title in her first collegiate season. "Nikki had to deal with several wrist and shin problems last season, but she is probably the healthiest she has ever been while at Arizona," Ryden said. "She is training in all four events, and there is a good chance she will be one of our top all-arounders if she can stay healthy."
In 2001, Arizona adds eight freshmen to the team's talent pool, and the influx of the freshmen really has changed the dynamics of the lineup. Led by Aimee Estella, Sheehan Lemley, Andi McCabe and Cori Messina, Ryden expects the group to help alleviate Arizona's recent depth problems. Level 10 competitors Estella, McCabe and Messina along with Lemley, an Elite gymnast, each bring high-quality gymnastics skills to the squad. Both McCabe and Messina have a strong chance of competing as all-arounders this season, and Ryden expects them to help compensate for the loss of Hornbeek's top event scoring. "Cori is one of the best Level 10 vaulters in the country, and she looks to make a significant impact on the lineup in all four events and in the all-around," Ryden said. "Andi is such an explosive gymnast, and she really has no fear about performing huge skills," he said. She has exhibited flashes of brilliance in all four events." "Aimee has been a pleasant surprise so far, and she brings a lot more to the table because she is a tireless worker. She is very good on beam, and there is a strong possibility that she will compete on bars and vault," he said. Although Lemley was unable to compete last season because she had bone chips removed from her ankle, she has seen uninterrupted training and will contend for a position in the beam, floor and bars lineups. The Wildcats also added four walk-ons to their roster - Sarah Galecki, Amanda Goins, Alli Hay and Meagan Killpack - who will contribute to the team's depth and provide support as the team reaches for a national championship berth.
According to Head Coach Bill Ryden
Vault - "Last year's performance on vault was probably the biggest surprise of the season because we really didn't have very much depth in that event. We are not necessarily deep in the event again this year, but we will be in good shape if our top gymnasts can stay healthy. Cori (Messina), Andi (McCabe) and Aimee (Estella) will help fill the vacancy left by Heidi Hornbeek, while Randi (Liljenquist), Heather (Straccia) and Kara (Fry) have upgraded the level of difficulty on their vaults. With the rule change this year, each gymnast can only perform one vault, so that provides our vaulters with a greater challenge because you no longer have the option of doing a second vault to help the score if the first one isn't very good."
Uneven Bars - "Bars is going to be an interesting event for us this season. We didn't do as well in this event last year as we had expected, but this season, we are really deep because we have 11 gymnasts who have strong bar routines. We definitely have a chance to be consistent in this event every week, and we have so many more options than we have had in the last five years."
Balance Beam - "Beam is our deepest event heading into the season. Kara (Fry) and Randi (Liljenquist) have both upgraded their routines, and the gymnasts are performing more difficult beam routines than they did last year. Aimee (Estella) is doing a great job, and Sheehan (Lemley), Andi (McCabe) and Cori (Messina) are all capable of breaking into the beam lineup before the first meet of the year."
Floor Exercise - "We are not very deep on floor, but as a team, the routines have a bigger look to them, and the gymnasts are executing more difficult skills all the way around. I look for Kara (Fry), Randi (Liljenquist) and Heather (Straccia) to carry much of the scoring load, and now with Mary (Reiss) off of vault, she trained the entire fall season on floor, and I expect her to contribute to the event score as well. Both Andi (McCabe) and Cori (Messina) bring a high level of tumbling to the team, and they have a high skill level in general, so they will have a chance to make a big impact."
All-Around - "We have five gymnasts - Kara (Fry), Randi (Liljenquist), Andi (McCabe), Cori (Messina) and Nikki (Beyschau) - who are each training very well, and they have the best chance of competing as all-arounders. Kara has been solid for us the last three years, and Randi was an All-Pac-10 selection in the all-around, and her performances last season were spectacular. Nikki is the consummate all-arounder, but her ability to compete in all four events will depend upon her health situation. Andi and Cori's addition to the team will be extremely crucial in terms of the team's total score, and it will be great if they can compete in the all-around."
Wildcats in the Rankings - Arizona closed out the 2000 season ranked No. 20 in the nation after the team finished fourth at the NCAA regional meet on April 7, 2000... In terms of schedule strength, 10 of Arizona's opponents in 2001 are ranked in the preseason coaches' poll... Six Pac-10 teams - UCLA (1), Stanford (7), Arizona State (11), Oregon State (12), Washington (16) and Arizona (20) - are ranked in the preseason poll... The Wildcats opened the 1999 and the 2000 seasons ranked No. 16 in the preseason coaches' poll.
Cat Scratches - Arizona head coach Bill Ryden is in his third year at the helm of the program (11th overall at Arizona) and holds a 21-29-1 career and school record... Arizona ended the season with a 5-4 regular season home meet record and a 7-7 overall home record (including the postseason)... UA closed out the regular season without any road victories (0-12) after six away meets... Arizona missed qualifying as a team for the NCAA Championships for the fourth consecutive season... Head coach Bill Ryden has had one gymnast compete at the NCAA Championship all-around finals in his two years at the helm of the program (Liljenquist in 2000 and Hornbeek in 1999)... The Wildcats faced 11 opponents ranked in the top 25 during the 2000 season... Liljenquist was one of only three Pac-10 gymnasts to score a perfect 10.000 on floor last season... At least two Wildcat gymnasts set or tied season-high and career-high marks in the team's last eight competitions of the 2000 season... Arizona has had 17 gymnasts receive All-Pac-10 honors in the last 17 seasons, and 14 Wildcat gymnasts have earned All-America accolades during the last 17 seasons.
A Look Ahead - Arizona travels to sunny California on Friday, Jan. 19, when the Cats will battle San Jose State, Pac-10 foeCalifornia and Oklahoma at 7:30 p.m. (PST) in its second quadrangular meet of the season... The UA concludes its three-meet roadswing on Sunday, Jan. 21, as the Wildcats are set to square off against California, Oklahoma and Utah State.