Arizona Gymnastics Meet Notes
What’s on Tap: The No. 17 Arizona women’s gymnastics team will open the 2006 season at the Cancun Gymnastics Classic in Cancun, Mexico, this Friday at 6:30 p.m. MST. The Wildcats will compete against five other teams including No. 1 Georgia, No. 9 Stanford, No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 21 Denver and North Carolina State.
The Rankings: The Wildcats were tabbed as the No. 17 team in the nation according to the preseason coaches poll. Last season, the Wildcats finished the season tied for 18th after opening the season No. 13. Arizona has been ranked in 59 of the last 60 polls.
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. 9-16. From Jan. 9-Feb. 16, teams will be ranked by their total season average. Starting Feb. 20, teams and gymnasts will be ranked by a Regional Qualifying Score (RQS). An RQS is based on a team's top six regular-season scores, with three scores coming from away meets. To obtain the RQS, the team's or gymnast’s highest score is dropped and the remaining five scores are averaged.
Arizona Head Coach: Bill Ryden is in his eighth season at the helm of the Arizona gymnastics program, owning a school and career record of 93-103-3. Ryden made 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. Additionally, Ryden has coached in 15 Pac-10 Championships, 12 NCAA Championships and 15 NCAA Regional meets. Ryden has also trained 12 All-Americans and 18 All-Pac-10 gymnasts in his tenure at Arizona.
About the Bulldogs: Georgia enters the year as the No. 1 team in the country following their national championship in 2005. The Bulldogs posted a score of 197.825 to edge out Alabama, Utah, UCLA, Michigan and Nebraska for the title. This year, Georgia returns eight gymnasts, including two-time first team All-American Brittany Smith. Smith earned a score of 9.95 on the vault at the Super Six finals to garner the All-America accolades in the event. The only other upperclassmen for the Bulldogs are Kelsey Ericksen and Ashely Kupets. Ericksen, the 2004 Southeastern Conference Freshmen of the Year, garnered All-SEC honors and first-team All-America honors on bars, floor and the all-around last year. Kupets, whose younger sister is now a freshman on the squad, was named a first-team All-American on the floor and all-around at the end of last season. The Bulldogs are coached by Suzanne Yoculan, who is in her 23rd year at the school. She holds a 706-112-6 career record.
About the Cardinal: Stanford enters the season as the No. 9 team in the country. The Cardinal finished 2005 ranked No. 17 and earned a fourth-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships. Natalie Foley returns as the lone senior on the squad following her nomination to the All-Pac-10 team as an all-arounder for the third time in her career. Foley is joined by the dynamic sophomore duo of Tabitha Yim and Liz Tricase. Yim, a bronze medalist at the 2001 World Championships, garnered first team All-America honors in the all-around, bars, beam and floor exercise in 2005. Tricase, a four-time U.S. National Team member, was hampered by injuries throughout parts of the season, but is one of the top scorers when healthy for the Cardinal. Kristen Smyth returns for her fifth year as head coach of the Cardinal. She was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2004.
About the Sooners: Oklahoma enters 2006 as the No. 10 team in the nation. The Sooners finished 2005 ranked No. 12, after accumulating the most wins in school history and a second consecutive NCAA Championships appearance. Despite the loss of 2005 Big 12 Gymnast of the Year Erin LaBarr to graduation, the Sooners return three seniors to this year’s squad. Kristen Cox, Tara Anderson and Coral Borda will lead a team making its third trip to Cancun in as many years. The Sooners won the 2005 Cancun Classic, posting a team score of 195.9 to defeat Brigham Young (194.325), George Washington (191.625) and Gustavus Adolphus (175.800). Perhaps Oklahoma’s top returnee is junior Ashley Cooney. She scored a 39.200 at the national championships in 2005 and did not score below 9.8 on any of her vaults during the season. The Sooners are coached by Steve Nunno, who is a two-time U.S. Olympic Coach.
About the Pioneers: Denver enters 2006 ranked No. 21 in the country. The Pioneers narrowly missed out on the NCAA Championships in 2005 after a third-place finish at the Southeast Region Championships. The team graduated only one senior from a year ago, and return 22 of 24 routines that competed at regionals. Junior Heather Huffaker returns following her second consecutive trip to NCAA Nationals as an individual all-around competitor. Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart enters her eighth season as head coach of the Pioneers. During her tenure, she has compiled a record of 123-57 with seven straight NCAA Regional appearances.
About the Wolfpack: North Carolina State enters 2000 unranked, but did receive votes in the preseason coaches poll. Senior Kylah Bachman returns as one of two seniors on the squad. She finished fourth at the NCAA Regionals with a 9.85 on beam a year ago, and competed as an all-arounder in every meet. Also joining her in the all-around lineup could be sophomore Heather Zolton, who competed as an all-arounder in five of the last seven meets a year ago. The Wolfpack are coached by Mark Stevenson, who is in his 25th year at the school. He holds a career record of 339-187.
It 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 14-5 in season openers, including a 9-3 mark over the last four seasons. This is the sixth-consecutive season Arizona has started its season away from Tucson, but the Wildcats own a 11-4 record under Ryden in season openers on the road.
Foreign Territory: This week’s meet will mark the first time ever the Wildcats have competed outside of the United States. The last time Arizona traveled outside of the Continental 48 states was back in 2002 at the Maui Invitational. The Wildcats took first place, edging Michigan, Oklahoma and CSU-Sacramento.
Road Rules: The Wildcats better get used to competing on the road early in the season. After opening up in Cancun, the team will then travel across the country to face Penn State and Alabama in State College, Pa., on Jan. 14. Arizona then opens Pac-10 action the following week up Interstate 10 in Tempe on Jan. 22. The Wildcats will host their first meet of the year in McKale Center against California on Jan. 27.
Destination Corvallis: If all goes well, it is possible that the Wildcats will make three separate trips to Corvallis, Ore., this season. Arizona’s first scheduled trip to the Pacific Northwest is on Feb. 10, when the club will face the Beavers in regular season Pac-10 competition. Arizona will then travel back up the coast on March 25 for the Pac-10 Championships and could make a return trip if the team would advance to the NCAA Championships on April 20-22.
Facing the Best: Arizona always competes against some of the top programs in the nation year in and year out, and this season will be no different. The Wildcats will face 12 of the nation’s Top 25 teams in the preseason coaches poll throughout the season. The list includes No. 3 and defending Pac-10 champion UCLA, as well as No. 1 and defending national champion Georgia. Arizona will also square off with No. 4 Alabama, No. 6 Florida, No. 9 Stanford and No. 10 Oklahoma.
Stacked Pac: Once again the Pac-10 will be one of the toughest conferences in the country. Six of the seven teams were ranked in the preseason coaches poll. The absence of California marked the first time in three years that all seven teams were not ranked.
The Lone Senior: When a team graduates six seniors in one class, it usually means that the following year they will rely on a number of underclassmen. That certainly is the case this year for the Wildcats, but don’t tell that to senior Erin Muirhead. Muirhead, the team captain, looks to provide veteran leadership as she returns for her final season as a Wildcat. In her career, Muirhead has earned career high marks of 9.850 on the vault and 9.800 on the floor.
Super Soph’s: Danielle Hicks, Karin Wurm and Rachelle Silberg all played vital roles on the Wildcat squad as freshmen. Now as sophomores, each look to see their roles increase. Hicks competed in all 13 meets, including the final six as an all-arounder, while collecting one title. Wurm became a consistent name in the vault, bars and floor lineups last year. Silberg was a mainstay in the vault lineup throughout the season, and earned a second-place finish at the Pac-10 Championships.
Looking ahead: The Wildcats will hit the road again, this time heading to State College, Pa., where they will face Penn State and Alabama. The meet is set to begin at 5 p.m. MST on Saturday, Jan. 14.