Greg Byrne's Wildcat Wednesday
Women's Gymnastics Opens Season at Super Six Challenge
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: January 05, 2005
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Arizona Gymnastics Meet Notes

What’s on Tap: The No. 13 Arizona women’s gymnastics team will kick off the 2005 season on Friday, Jan. 7, in Gainesville, Fla., at the super Six Challenge. The meet will feature five other nationally-ranked teams including No. 2 Georgia, No. 4 Alabama, No. 6 Florida, No. 17 Iowa and No. 19 Penn State. The event is set for 7p.m. in Florida’s Stephen C. O’Connell Center. The meet will be taped by ESPN and televised Sunday, January 16.

The Rankings: Arizona opens the 2005 season as the No. 13 ranked team in the nation. The Wildcats earned 264 votes in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Wildcats finished the 2004 season as the No. 14 team in the nation with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 196.785 and a 13-10-2 record. Complete rankings can be viewed at

About the Rankings: Unlike other collegiate athletic rankings, collegiate gymnastic rankings are not based on wins and losses or votes. Gymnastic teams are ranked by their meet scores alone. Teams are ranked by their highest score from Jan. 10-17. From Jan. 24-Feb. 14, teams will be ranked by their season average. Starting Feb. 21, teams and gymnasts will be ranked by a Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). A Regional Qualifying Score is based on a team’s top six regular-season scores, with three scores coming from away meets. To obtain the regional qualifying score, the team’s or gymnast’s highest score is dropped and the remaining five scores are averaged.

Arizona Head Coach Bill Ryden: Enters his seventh season at the helm of the Arizona gymnastics program owning a school and career record of 69-92-3. Ryden leads Arizona into 2005 after making his first appearance as a head coach at the NCAA Championships in 2002, the program’s first appearance since 1996. In 2002, Ryden also earned Pac-10 Conference Coach of the Year honors as well as South Central Regional Coach of the Year honors, becoming the first head coach in Arizona history to have earned Regional Coach of the Year honors.

About the Crimson Tide: The Alabama Crimson Tide open the 2005 season ranked No. 4, earning 531 votes and one first-place vote. The Crimson Tide finished 2004 with a record of 12-0-1 and ranked tied for third with Stanford. Alabama returns 11 gymnasts from a year ago, including four All-Americans. Head Coach Sarah Patterson is entering her 27th season with a career mark of 333-73-4.

About the Gators: The Florida Gators are the hosts of the 2005 Super Six Challenge. The Gators enter the season ranked No. 6 in the Preseason Coaches Poll. Last season, the Gators finished No. 5. They are returning nine gymnasts this season, seven of whom earned All-American honors. The Gators are coached by Rhonda Faehn, who is entering her third season and holds a school and career record of 43-14.

About the Bulldogs: The Georgia Bulldogs were the 2004 national runner-ups, finishing second to UCLA. The Bulldogs posted a season record of 30-6 with a squad that featured seven All-Americans. Despite returning only one All-American and four other gymnasts, the Bulldogs were voted the No. 2 team in the nation. Head Coach Suzanne Yuculan is entering her 22nd year, and holds an amazing career record of 666-94-6.

About the Hawkeyes: The Iowa Hawkeyes enter the 2005 season ranked No. 17 in the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Hawkeyes wrapped up the 2004 season with a record of 9-6 and ranked No. 12. The Hawkeyes return nine letter winners despite losing two gymnasts who received All-American honors. The Hawkeyes are coached by Larissa Libby, who is entering her first season as a head coach.

About the Nittany Lions: The Penn State Nittany Lions are ranked as the No. 19 team in the nation according to the Preseason Coaches Poll. The Nittany Lions posted an 11-6-2 mark last season. This season, Penn State returns 12 gymnasts, including one All-American. Entering his 13th season, Steve Shepard holds a career and school record of 151-105-2 at Penn State.

Fast Starts on the Road: It seems like head coach Bill Ryden has a knack for starting his teams off on the right track to open a season. Under Ryden, Arizona is 12-2 in season openers, including a 7-0 mark over the last three seasons. This is the fifth-consecutive season Arizona has started its season away from Tucson, but the Wildcats own a 9-1 record under Ryden in season openers on the road.

Super Six at the Super Six: The Wildcats’ six seniors will be making their first career appearance at the Super Six Challenge this week. However, they made their names known during the 2002 season when the school made its second NCAA Championships appearance in school history. During that season, Monica Bisordi (beam, all-around), Stevie Fanning (beam), and Katie Johnson (floor) all earned individual Pac-10 titles. Johnson was named Pac-10 Freshman of the year.

Star Watch: Monica Bisordi will enter her senior year after garnering second team All-America accolades in 2004 in the floor exercise. She also was named to the first team All-Pac-10 on the floor as well as earning Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week honors for Feb. 2-8, 2004. Another senior, Katie Johnson, is looking to cap of her already stellar career with her best season yet. Johnson holds a school-record 10.000 on the vault and is an Academic All-American.

Stacked Pac: Once again the Pac-10 will be one of the toughest conferences in the country. For the second consecutive season, all seven programs in the Pac-10 are ranked in the preseason Coaches Poll. Two-time defending national champion tops the list at No. 1, followed by No. 3 Stanford, No. 9 ASU, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 13 Arizona, No. 21 Washington and No. 25 California.

To be the Best, you have to Beat the Best: If Arizona is to return to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2002, then they will have to earn their way back. The Wildcats will face 12 teams ranked in the Preseason Coaches Poll. Among those teams are No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Alabama, No. 6 Florida, No. 9 Arizona State, No. 12 Oregon State, No. 17 Iowa, No. 19 Penn State, No. 21 Washington, No. 22 Missouri and No. 25 California. The Wildcats also face six other opponents that received votes in the poll.

Looking ahead: Arizona will return home from Gainesville, Fla., to host Illinois-Chicago, Michigan State and Missouri on Friday, Jan. 14. The meet will be the first home meet of the season for the Wildcats. Last season, the Wildcats averaged 1,182 fans per meet at McKale, good enough for 23rd in the nation.

2005 Outlook: The Arizona women’s gymnastics team enters the 2005 season with one of its most experienced squads in history. A year ago, the team continued the tradition of excellence the program has enjoyed by qualifying for an 18th-consecutive regional championship appearance. The Wildcats also broke a number of school records, including posting 11 scores in 13 meets that rank in the school’s Top 20 all-time list and also posting two scores of 197 or better, something that had only been achieved twice before in the entire history of the school. However, this success pales in comparison to the success a special group of six seniors enjoyed their first season in the program.

In their three years of competition, Arizona’s six seniors - Monica Bisordi, Jamie Duce, Stevie Fanning, Kristine Harper, Katie Johnson, and Jamie Schell - have taken the program to new heights. While their accomplishments are many, their most cherished feat was reaching the 2002 NCAA Championships as freshmen. Having missed out the last two years, one might expect

"It’s not necessarily a sense of urgency, just a desire to go out with a bang," head coach Bill Ryden said. "They all had a huge impact on the program as freshmen, and it’s been their team ever since. They have all said they want this year to be as good or better than that first year, and it can happen."

In order for that to happen, however, a couple things must take place. Not only will the seniors need a strong supporting cast, but the team will have to avoid injuries.

Along with the six seniors, the Wildcats return two juniors, three sophomores, and will welcome in four freshmen to the lineup. Juniors Abby Pearson and Erin Muirhead come back as regulars in the vault rotation, and it is Pearson who holds a school record 10.000 on the vault.

Returning for their second seasons are sophomores Jamie Holton, Aubrey Taylor and Danyra Varela. A year ago, Taylor cracked the rotation in the all-around, something very rare for any freshmen in Arizona history.

This year’s foursome of freshmen hope to do something similar. Rachelle Silberg and Melanie Weiser will battle with fellow freshmen Danielle Hicks and Karin Wurm for spots in the rotation.

"I’m really excited about this year’s team," Ryden said. "The team last year did a really good job and overcame a lot of difficulties to finish really strong and arguably could have gone farther than they did. This year’s team is a little bit stronger. The girls that played a major role last year are that much better. It’s exciting to think about the possibilities."

With that said, the second and perhaps most important obstacle still must be avoided.

"I never want to get too far ahead of myself, because in our sport a sprained ankle can change the whole complex of a season," Ryden said.

While injuries are a key aspect of any sport, they are that much more critical in gymnastics and Coach Ryden and his staff know that.

"Our sport is so ballistic that we do everything in our power to keep them healthy," Ryden said. "We monitor their health as closely as we can because the sport is so incredibly dangerous and they have to be physically capable to do their risky maneuvers."

Even so, the Wildcats are having to deal with their share of injuries, but that comes as no surprise.

"We are overcoming major injuries that we knew about ?- things that needed surgical repair. A lot of times we come into the year and all 15 are there, but then they start dropping and we have to figure out what’s wrong. This year we aren’t being caught by surprise or anything. We went into the summer knowing that some girls needed a lot of repair work, and now we are waiting for them to come back."

Injuries, most notably to Abby Pearson and Aubrey Taylor, could lead to a lack of depth this season, but that too will come as no surprise.

"Our lack of depth is no surprise, but because medicine is an inexact science, it’s hard to predict how well and when someone will return," Ryden said.

Injuries aside, this team is still looking as strong as any Ryden has coached.

"Right now we are looking really strong in each event and I don’t know if we have a dominant event," Ryden said. "We should score high on every single event, but our job will be consistency and living up to our potential."

With all the optimism for this season, living up to that potential may be easier said than done. Even so, two things will keep this team on track for the school’s first Super Six appearance since 1993: support and confidence. Not only does this team have the support of each other, but they can also rely on the support of the community. Last season the Wildcats ranked 23rd nationally in meet attendance.

The home crowd should not be disappointed by this year’s performances either if confidence is any measure. Just ask Coach Ryden: "I think it is going to be a really strong year for Arizona gymnastics."

The Senior Class

One would be hard pressed to find a group of seniors anywhere in the nation that are as important to their team as Arizona’s six seniors are this season. Led by returning second-team-All-American Monica Bisordi, the seniors will again assume the leadership role they began to take as freshmen.

During that 2002 campaign, Bisordi brought home first team all-conference honors on both the balance beam and all-around while Katie Johnson earned first team all-conference honors on the floor exercise. Stevie Fanning made her big splash with a co-championship on the balance beam at the Pac-10 championships.

All in all, Arizona’s seniors have a total of 18 individual Top 10 scores in various events. The Wildcat seniors have been equally impressive in the classroom, earning an astounding 13 Mary Roby Academic Achievement awards establishing themselves as the true leaders of the squad both in and out of the gym.

"They definitely are the leaders of the team," Ryden said. "Certainly all of them are looking as good as they have ever looked. It’s very exciting, but sad at the same time because I don’t want these girls to leave after this year. But each one of them is doing a great a job. Barring anything unforeseen, they are all going to have a great year."

The Junior Class

Unlike last year’s class, this year’s juniors are few and won’t be expected to carry the team on their shoulders. That does not mean, however, that they won’t play an integral role in the success of this team. Abby Pearson holds a school-record 10.000 on the vault and will be key figure in the rotation again this year. Erin Muirhead returns to add further depth at the vault position as well as contributing on the floor and beam.

The success this season for Pearson and Muirhead will depend largely on how they recover from injuries and illness. Pearson underwent surgery in the off- season to repair a disk in her back, while Muirhead was dealing with an illness of her own.

"Abby had a big-time sugery and we are still trying to see how that comes along," Ryden said. "Erin came back this summer a little ill. But she is fine now and training hard on three events. She’s a mainstay on our vault team and she’s ready for this year. It’s a small junior class, but if they both come back, our team score will definitely go up."

The Sophomore Class

Just like the juniors, this year’s sophomore class must overcome a string of injuries before making an impact. The top returnee is Aubrey Taylor who competed in the all-around as a freshman, something very rare for a Ryden squad. She, however, is coming back from ankle surgery but should be ready to go for competition in January. Jamie Holton and Danyra Varela are both rehabilitating elbow and knee injuries, respectively.

"Jamie is coming off elbow surgery," Ryden said. "We are still trying to see what impact she can make this year. As for Danyra, we are still working on her knee. Hopefully she can make an impact because she is a really good gymnast. Aubrey seems to be coming back well. She is a sure bet in a couple of events and we would not be surprised to see her back doing all-around as well."

The Freshmen Class

Ryden’s commitment to recruiting on a national and even international level could not be more obvious than this season, as he signed two high-profile recruits in Danielle Hicks and Karin Wurm.

Hicks made her name known as a competitor at the Canadian Olympic Trials in 2004 while attending Eastdale CVI High School in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Wurm hails from Avon Grove High School in Landenberg, Pennsylvania where she placed second nationally in the all-around.

"Danielle and Karin come in with great credentials," Ryden said. "They have the results behind them and certainly Danielle with all of her international experience. I expect both of them to challenge, if not break into, competing for the all-around this year, which is a huge thing for a freshman."

Joining Hicks and Wurm are Rachelle Silberg and Melanie Weiser. Both have impressed Ryden early on.

"Rachelle and Melanie both have great work ethics and are great for the team," Ryden said. "The biggest surprise has been Rachelle’s vaulting as far as someone who might be able to make an immediate impact."

What Coach Ryden Says About Vault

"The big thing with vault is we lost an all-conference vaulter in Andi McCabe and we don’t know about Abby. This year, Katie is looking fantastic. Monica and Jamie Schell look great. Erin and Aubrey are working hard at their repertoire. I fully intend to have Danielle and Karin competing for us, and Rachelle has been a big surprise. We’ll be okay on vault. We’ll be able to put up six to eight 10.000 start value vaulters and go with whoever is healthiest."

What Coach Ryden Says About Bars

"Bars are one of those events where we always throw a lot of difficulty into our routines - as much as any team in the country - and I think this year will be no different. We still have the returning veterans who are good, like Jamie Duce, Monica and Stevie, and then you add in Danielle and Karin who are looking really good on the bars."\

What Coach Ryden Says About Beam

"We have a great beam team returning. We lost Sheehan Lemley and Andi McCabe. The strength of our beam team is definitely our returning upper classmen. Our seniors are truly leading the way. Beam is Monica’s favorite event and I know she loves to do that. We are truly loaded on beam. From a depth standpoint, I am pleased because of the level of gymnastics we are at."

What Coach Ryden Says About Floor

"Floor is anybody’s game. It could be just who is tumbling the best at that point. We have all of our seniors back. Katie looks phenomenal. She anchored our floor lineup last year and we expect nothing less again. Almost our entire team can go out on floor. It’s going to be a hard thing for me to try and figure out the best lineup, but it’s a good problem to have."

Bear Down Challenge Gymnastics