Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
No. 16 Arizona Opens Season and Pac-10 Action Friday Wildcats set to battle No. 3 UCLA, Central Michigan and Iowa
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: January 10, 2000
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What's Coming Up: The 16th-ranked Arizona women's gymnastics team will play host to No. 3 UCLA (1-4 overall, 0-0 Pac-10), Central Michigan (3-0 overall, 1-0 Mid-American) and Iowa (0-0 overall, 0-0 Big 10) in its season home-opener on Friday, Jan. 14, at 7:30 p.m., in the McKale Center. The Wildcats begin their second-straight season ranked No. 16 in the women's gymnastics preseason coaches' poll. Arizona will compete in its single quadrangular meet of the 2000 season, and it is also the second-straight season that the Wildcats have opened competition against a Pac-10 opponent. Arizona closed out the 20th century with a 14-10-1 overall record, a tie for fourth in the Pac-10 Conference and a third-place finish at the NCAA Region III Championships. The UA returns to the mat with 12 gymnasts from last year's squad, and senior All-American Heidi Hornbeek is back to provide the leadership the team will need in its bid for the Wildcats' first NCAA Championship berth in four years. Arizona will face nine opponents, beginning with UCLA, that are ranked in the preseason top-25 poll.

Head Coach Bill Ryden Says: We are very anxious to get started. The team has been training for four months, and the gymnasts are doing pretty well. It's the first meet, so we are going to use it as a measuring tool to help us figure out where we need to improve. We have a great deal of respect for our three opponents, and we are not going to take anything for granted.

About the UCLA Bruins: UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos (UCLA, 1987) is in her 10th year with the Bruins and has compiled a career and school record of 177-40 in nine years with the program. Under Kondos' leadership, UCLA won the conference crown in 1999 and ended the season with a 20-5 overall record. The Bruins landed in first place at the regional championships, and they went on to close out the postseason with a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships. UCLA returned three All-Americans from last season's team, and it also has six letterwinners back from the 1999 squad.

The third-ranked Bruins (1-4 overall, 0-0 Pac-10) placed fifth at the season-opening Super Six Challenge with a score of 193.225 on Jan. 8 in Athens, Ga. No. 2 Alabama (195.750) won the meet, while top-ranked Georgia (195.400) finished in second place and lost for the first time in 30 meets. Five UCLA gymnasts fell off of the beam, and Doni Thompson the Bruins' highest scorer on beamscored a 9.525 after receiving a three-tenths deduction for touching the apparatus. UCLA scored a 49.150 on floor and a 49.025 on vault. Junior Mohini Bhardwaj helped pace the team in both events by scoring a 9.900 on floor and a 9.875 on vault. The Bruins found themselves in last place heading into the final rotation, but a 48.775 on bars pushed the squad into fifth place overall. Bhardwaj led the way on bars with a career-high and first-place 9.950, and senior Lena Degteva recorded a 9.900 in the event. Bhardwaj landed in fourth place in the all-around with a score of 39.050.

About the Central Michigan Chippewas: Head coach Jerry Reighard (Central Michigan, 1974) enters his 16th season at the helm of the Chippewa program. He has led Central Michigan to seven Mid-American Conference championships and a 1999 appearance in the NCAA Regional Championships. The Chippewas finished the 1999 season with a 23-5 overall record and an 11-1 record in the conference. Although Central Michigan lost three letterwinners from last year's roster, the team returns nine letterwinners.
Central Michigan (3-0 overall, 1-0 Mid-American) boasts a perfect record after opening the 2000 season with a first-place 191.575 in its season-opener last weekend at Northern Illinois where the Chippewas defeated Northern Illinois (187.325), Winona State (176.700) and Wisconsin-Whitewater (169.700). Senior Nikki Liphardt led the way for the Chippewas, winning the all-around title with a 38.975, and she also took top honors on floor 99.825) and bars (9.725). Senior Autumn Hansen tied for first place on vault with a 9.700 and tied for second on beam with a career-best 9.825. Sophomore Bethany Couturier landed in second place in the all-around (38.375), tied for second on beam 99.825) and tied for third on vault (9.675).

About the Iowa Hawkeyes: Hawkeye head coach Mike Lorenzen (Maryland, 1986) heads into his first season with the Iowa Hawkeye program that finished with a 5-10 record in 1999. Iowa's 1999 squad also finished in seventh place in the Big 10 Conference. The Hawkeyes lost one letterwinner from last year's team, while they return six from the 1999 team.
Iowa's meeting with Arizona, UCLA and Central Michigan is the team's 2000 season-opener, and Lorenzen looks for Giselle Boniforti and Angie Hungerford to lead a solid squad of returnees. Both gymnasts were sidelined with injuries throughout last season, but they have returned to the lineup at full speed. The Hawkeyes will rely on seniors Robyn Gamble, Courtney Burke and Julie Matolo, along with sophomore Coynne Cooper to carry the load in the all-around.

All-American Heidi Hornbeek: Senior Heidi Hornbeek is back for her fifth year to help lead the team to its first NCAA Championship berth in four years. Hornbeek, a six-time All-America selection and a seven-time All-Pac-10 honoree, returned to the Arizona lineup in 1999 after undergoing major shoulder surgery and racked up 32 impressive top-five finishes, including 12 first-place titles. She competed in 10 meets as an all-around performer and was the only Wildcat gymnast to reach the NCAA Championships after qualifying as the top at-large seed in the all-around. She received All-America honors in the uneven bars, balance beam and all-around events at the 1999 NCAA Championships.

2000 Season Outlook: Although the Wildcats experienced some growing pains last season, the 1999-2000 Arizona women's gymnastics team heads into action with 12 returnees, including one All-American, and a promising freshman newcomer. Arizona is prepared to build upon last season's 14-10-1 overall record and its third-place finish at the NCAA Regional Championships while attempting to make its 14th-consecutive trip to the postseason.

After finishing the season ranked No. 20 in the nation and tied for fourth in the Pacific-10 Conference, head coach Bill Ryden is confident that the 2000 squad's combination of talent, experience, leadership and team work will enable the team to make a serious run for the NCAA Championships in Boise, Idaho. The Wildcats head into competition ranked No. 16 in the gymnastics preseason coaches' poll.

Arizona's returning wealth of talent will help offset the loss of All-American Kristin McDermott, Lisha Stone and All-American Maureen Kealey, who retired from the sport in November. Ryden expects the strong group of returnees to restore the program's national top-10 status for the first time in four years.

Ryden, who enters his second season at the helm of the Wildcat program and his 10th year overall at Arizona, leads a multi-talented and highly-experienced team into the 21st century. All-American Heidi Hornbeek returns for her fifth year to provide the team with the veteran leadership that the Wildcats will depend on as they work towards returning to the NCAA Championships after a four-year hiatus. Junior Kara Fry, a 1998 All-Pac-10 selection, and sophomore sensation Randi Liljenquistthe team's top freshman in 1999are on track to post big numbers in the all-around and boost Arizona's overall team score.

 I am convinced that experience will be the key factor to this team's overall success, Ryden said. We basically have the same team, except that we lost two all-arounders in Kristin McDermott and Maureen Kealey, but we gained another outstanding all-arounder in freshman Nikki Beyschau.

Although the Wildcats lost two of their top all-arounder performers, freshman Nikki Beyschau has taken on the challenge of training in each event. She has helped alleviate Arizona's depth problems, and she is one of four gymnasts who Ryden looks to carry the load in the all-around.

I feel good about what the team can do this season. Randi Liljenquist, Heidi Hornbeek and Kara Fry are performing much better now than they were at the end of last year, and I expect the rest of the gymnasts to really step up their performances and help lead the team in every meet, Ryden said.

In addition to the program's wealth of experience and leadership, Ryden is also confident that the team's cooperation and cohesiveness will enable the team to achieve its main objectivequalifying for the NCAA Championships.

This team is extremely motivated, and they are constantly working together for the good of the team, Ryden said. Gymnastics may look like an individual sport, but in reality, it is definitely a team sport. The gymnasts train hard every single day to improve the team's overall score, and when they go out to practice or compete, they are performing for the good of the team.

In collegiate gymnastics, injuries are simply a part of the sport, much like tumbling and vaulting. Ryden and the gymnasts are constantly dealing with injury situations, and he expects that the lineup will change a great deal during the season.

Our biggest concern is the team's overall health. We have the potential to be a very good team, but we obviously need to stay healthy in order to do that, Ryden said.

We are very optimistic. We are a very experienced team, but experience also comes with the cost of broken bones and torn ligaments.  We have two fifth-year seniors, and getting them through the season healthy will be our primary task.

The team's greatest challenge as it heads into competition will be to overcome its current depth problems in each event. With each gymnast training in all four of the events, Ryden is confident that athletes will step up their overall performance and fill the gaps left by the departure of Kealey and McDermott, two of the team's top all-around performers in 1999.

Our main focus is to continue to develop depth in each event, get the gymnasts to compete in other events that they have not normally competed in before and to upgrade all of our routines in terms of difficulty, Ryden said. The gymnasts have responded very well to the challenges.

With a tough schedule that includes nine of the nation's top-25 teams, the Wildcats are fighting to stay healthy and win positions in the competitive lineup. Arizona has six home meets, but the Wildcats only have to leave the state four times during the regular season.

A truism in gymnastics is that whoever is walking in April tends to have the best chance of winning. Our team knows that the potential is there to go much farther than we did last season if everyone is on her game. I think the gymnasts are up for the challenge, Ryden added.

The Seniors: The task of reaching nationals will be made easier by the quality of the Wildcats' returning seniors led by Hornbeek, Kiernan Andrews, Gretchen Diaz and Lisa Heckel.
The seniors add a great deal of leadership and extensive experience to the team, Ryden said. They have all experienced adversity, and they know what it means to be successful inside and outside of the gym.

Six-time All-American Heidi Hornbeek, who racked up 12 first-place titles in 1999, received her seventh All-Pac-10 honor in her first season after redshirting in 1998 following major shoulder surgery. Hornbeek, one of the nation's pre-eminent all-around performers, is ready once again to make an immediate impact on the team's score with her leadership and highly-skilled performances. Hornbeek had a strong showing in the all-around at the 1999 NCAA Championships, and she received All-America honors in the uneven bars, balance beam and all-around events, making her the most highly decorated Arizona gymnast with a career total of six All-America honors.

Heidi is back for her fifth year, and she is doing extremely well. Last year was her comeback campaign after season-ending shoulder surgery in November 1997, and she did well even though Heidi was not performing the gymnastics that she wanted to during the meets.  This year she is performing skills that definitely fit her talents, and she is determined to finish at the top of her game.

Andrews has made an indelible mark on the gymnastics program with her stellar vault and floor exercise work, while Diaz has proven to be a reliable performer for the Cats on vault for the last three years. After her first year as an official competitor, Heckel's addition to the uneven bars lineup enhanced the team's score on bars, and she looks to provide the necessary depth for the Cats in her final year as a bars specialist.

Although they don't necessarily compete in every event, Kiernan, Gretchen and Lisa have been crucial members of the team because of their leadership and experience, Ryden said. This year, I look for them to have the chance to make even more of an impact on the overall score.

The Juniors: Kara Fry, a 1998 All-Pac-10 selection, is on target to regain her 1998 NCAA Championship form, while Mary Reiss and Heather Straccia have returned to top form after struggling with injuries throughout the majority of the 1999 season. Nicci Filchner, one of the team's most consistent bar workers in 1998 as a freshman, has returned to practice in the gym following season-ending shoulder surgery in 1997 and has a great shot of competing in the bars event.
Our juniors will assume a more dominant role. They will each compete in more events, and they will have more of an impact on the team's overall success than in the past, Ryden said. They have been significant contributors over the last few years, and I expect nothing less this season.

The Sophomores: Arizona's sophomore squad, led by standout Randi Liljenquist, will help the team overcome depth problems in every event. Brooke Stan has recovered from nagging back problems and will compete on vault, beam and floor, while Emily Peterman's activity in practice has been restricted due to a chronic back ailment. Ryden expects Lindsay Compitello to make her debut as an official collegiate competitor after participating in various beam exhibitions throughout last season.

The sophomores have a positive attitude about what it means to be Wildcat gymnasts, Ryden said. They have an amazing sense of style and dance, and I expect them to continue to make great improvements in their skills and routines. They will provide us with depth in each event, and they are more solidified in their importance to the team.

The Freshman: The Wildcats' lone freshman, Nikki Beyschau, adds youth and a strong competitive background in all four events to the Arizona roster. Beyschau, an elite-level gymnast, trained alongside Hornbeek as a member of the Arizona Sunrays in Glendale, Ariz., and she was Arizona's single recruiting choice because she is a high-quality gymnast who contributes depth, style and strength in all four events and the all-around.

Nikki is an extremely positive addition to the team, and she is a seasoned veteran in the all-around, Ryden said. She has an incredible work ethic, and she will definitely help with our depth problems in all four events.

Ryden's Event-by-Event Breakdown:
Vault: Vault is going very well, and we have improved so much since last year.  Already in practice, we have had three gymnasts throwing 10.0 vaults in the gym. Now that Randi Liljenquist can compete in vault, she will definitely help improve the depth problems we experienced in this event last season. We have more depth than in previous years, and we also have a higher quality of vaulting skills.

Uneven Bars: This event is much likely to be hit harder than the other events if someone goes down early in the season because of the current lack of depth on bars. In this event you really bank on people you don't have to worry about. Heather Straccia and Nicci Filchner have been training extremely hard on bars, and they both have a great shot of returning to the bars lineup after experiencing injuries. Kara Fry, Randi Liljenquist and Heidi Hornbeek have upgraded their routines, and Heidi is going to be doing more difficult bar skills than she did last year.

Balance Beam: We are going to have more difficult routines than last season, and everybody should start at a 10.0 difficulty level. We probably have the most depth in this event, and the gymnasts have a greater chance of breaking into the lineup because they are all very competitive on beam, and we are looking for a variety of beam performers who can stay on the beam.

Floor Exercise: With floor, we really have to worry about keeping people healthy, and we also have to focus on hitting our tumbling passes. Last year's floor team proved to be very good and consistent, but we still have to hit our passes, hit the leaps and not stumble around out there during the routines. This year's floor lineup will be highly diverse.

All-Around: We have four gymnastsHeidi Hornbeek, Randi Liljenquist, Kara Fry and Nikki Beyschauwho are each training very well, and they have a legitimate shot of competing as all-arounders. Heidi and Kara have been solid for us the last two years, and since Randi underwent surgery in the summer, it has definitely worked out because she can now compete on vault. Nikki is the consummate all-arounder because she does not have a weakness anywhere, and her addition to the team will be extremely crucial in terms of the team's total score.

Bear Down Challenge Gymnastics