Coach Ryden sat down to discuss the Wildcats’ tough schedule, injuries and much more in the latest edition of Chalk Talk.
Q: Your team has competed on the road five of the first seven weeks of the season. How excited is the team to compete at home over the next three weeks?
A: “We’re very excited. It was an incredibly difficult schedule to start off the year. Maybe it wasn’t the way we intended to break in our young team, especially the freshmen, but in some ways it really helped us. We have seen virtually the very best gymnastics there is in the country. We were tested on different equipment, arenas and crowds. Anything we see from now on can only be easier. It wasn’t the ultimate way to introduce the freshmen, but we are a very seasoned group. It will only help us in the long run.”
Q: How much of a difference is there between competing at home and on the road in collegiate gymnastics?
A: “There seems to be quite a bit of difference. I think it is mostly about the comfort level. Technically, there should not be any difference except for lighting since we all use the same equipment. We aren’t a sport that has to design offenses or defenses. We are a performance sport. It’s about finding a comfort level and performing to the fans. There seems to be quite a difference in competing at home because it’s more enjoyable for the girls. They like competing and performing in front of their own fans. The more fun they are having, the better they are in performing.”
Q: Over the next couple of weeks, two very highly-ranked teams (No. 2
A: “Those are two of the top teams in the nation, obviously. We feel like we can match up with them. The key for us is just doing what we do. We have a very high level of difficulty in our gymnastics. We have never ducked anyone if you look at our schedules. If we had a strength of schedule or RPI measure in our sport, I think we would be right up there at No. 1. Those two programs are doing very well and will be a challenge for us, but in our sport you can lose to a first-year program on any given night if you aren’t focused and motivated. I think it’s easier to be focused when you have a great program sitting on the floor next to you.”
Q: Danielle Hicks (No. 20) and Aubrey Taylor (No. 21) are both ranked in the Top 25 as all-arounders. Karin Wurm has also been a consistent high-scorer as an all-around. The trio combines for nearly 60 percent of the team’s scoring. How important is their impact in each meet?
A: “Our team can’t be effective without all three of them on top of their game. Whether we like it or not, our team scoring goes through them because of our lack of depth. They have handled the pressure very well. Now that we are into the RQS rankings, all three should rise in the rankings as they begin to drop some scores. The thing about each of them is not that they compete in every event, but that they are good enough to compete in every event. It is a nice luxury to have 12 of your 24 routines accounted for every meet without many questions. We put a lot of weight on their shoulders.”
Q: Early in the season, the team struggled a bit on beam. Over the last month, the beam has turned into one of the team’s stronger and more consistent events. What has been the key to the improvement the team has made on beam?
A: “More than anything, I think that the event took a big hit from last year’s group that we lost. So much of it is believing in yourself and having confidence. When we went out in our first meet this year, four of the six had never saluted in the official lineup before. It takes a while to believe and understand. They have worked very hard and Colleen (Johnson) has worked very hard with them. I’m proud of what they have done. It’s now about believing and having confidence each time out. We’re at the point now where if we have a fall, we are disappointed even if we don’t have to count it. I think you have to expect to be successful before you can be successful. It took a while, but now you’re starting to see that.”
Q: What is the health status of the team now that the mid-point of the season has passed?
A: “We are definitely nicked up. All three of the all-arounders have had to battle through things. We weren’t sure we would have Aubrey or Karin last week, but they toughed it out. Our sport is so brutal. I don’t think anyone is hampered more than normal. We are hanging in there. Every week we (coaches) fight the decision of ?'how far do we push them?’ We seem to be doing okay right now. The key is rest. I think not having to travel every week will be better for their bodies recovering and allowing them to get rest. We’re hoping we can get them that rest and get them healthy to start peaking as we approach the end of the year.”
Q: Your team relies heavily on contributions from some of the freshmen. Can you talk about their progress?
A: “They’re definitely getting better week-by-week. Certainly, we’ve had a major impact from Alexis (Greene) and Beamer (Briana Bergeson). They are competing like veterans. As they get better, so does the team. Every meet they gain more and more experiences. The hostile environment they saw at Stanford last week was one more lesson for them. They keep learning how much they have to work and how hard it is to compete as a college gymnast. At this point of the season, they have competed more than they would in 12 months with their clubs. The test for them now will be not hitting a wall. Their mind set now is like, ?'Oh my god, we’re competing again and again and again.’ They can only learn and improve through experience.”
Q: Have you been particularly surprised with anything involving your team or the sport in general across the nation this year?
“I’m surprised with how well we are doing at this point in the season. We knew we would have to have a fast learning curve, but I’m proud of what we have done to this point. We’ve had to do it through a lot of adversity. This is one of the hardest working seasons we’ve ever had. Our girls have had to learn so much in a short amount of time to be at the level they are at. But we had no choice. I have to give them kudos; they have responded.
As for the sport as a whole, the scores are lower than last year. The rules are definitely harder. I think it will open things up more come postseason, particularly when it gets down to the final round. It will be interesting to see how things shake out the rest of the season. We (the sport) are doing a better of job of assigning the judges across the country. You don’t see as much ?'hometown scoring’ as you did in the old days.”