MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia gymnastics coach Linda Burdette-Good has seen her fair share of talented, achieving senior classes over the last 37 years. So when she says this year’s crop of six senior gymnasts is one of the most resilient groups she has ever coached, one tends to believe her.
“Each girl earned her spot on this team, made a four-year commitment and helped make this program even better than it was when they entered back in the 2007-08 season,” Burdette-Good said. “It’s just amazing and I can’t really say what this class has meant to our team. I am respectful of each girl’s commitment, and this year this class became the heart and soul of the Mountaineers.”
Boasting a four-year record of 95-30, the sextet – Amy Bieski, Naja Johnson, Stephanie Keaton, Emily Kerwin, Faye Meaden and Alysha Pretzello – has emerged as a focused, vocal and prepared unit, ready and willing to do whatever is asked. Additionally, after winning WVU’s sixth East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) title in 2008 as rookies, they seek to bookend their Mountaineer careers with their second championship.
That quest begins this evening, as they, along with their teammates, take to the WVU Coliseum floor one last time this season and play host to No. 10 Penn State at 7 p.m.
“They aren’t afraid to step-up and say what they think,” Burdette-Good continued. “They have figured out what their roles are within this team, and they also have helped the other athletes understand what roles they must play.
“I always say that I want my seniors to be my best athletes. I don’t ever want to see a gymnast settle, and each of these girls has steadily progressed and is on the cusp of peaking.”
Thirteen-time all-EAGL honoree Amy Bieski is on the verge of becoming one of the top gymnasts in Mountaineer history. Competing in her 50th career meet tonight, she has seen action as an all-arounder in 45 meets and ranks No. 4 on the all-time WVU career points list with 1,862.65 points. She needs 29.287 points this evening to pass six-time All-American Kristin Quackenbush to rank No. 3, and is expected to close out her career ranked No. 2.
The Nanticoke, Pa., native has had an immediate impact on the team’s success since day one, as evidenced by her six EAGL weekly awards in 2008. She was named, along with Mehgan Morris, the team’s MVP at the conclusion of that season.
Yet, it has been Bieski’s work this year that has set her apart. Battling a lingering arm injury, she shattered her all-around career high on Feb. 20, scoring 39.325 points and finishing first overall against No. 1 Florida. She also owns career bests of 9.9 on vault and floor, 9.875 on bars and 9.85 on beam.
A three-time 2011 EAGL Gymnast of the Week, Bieski, a speech pathology and audiology major, also is an NACGC/W Scholastic All-American. She currently ranks No. 1 in the EAGL in the all-around.
Like Bieski, Kerwin, a Central, S.C., native, will compete in her 50th career meet tonight. Also like Bieski, she is having her greatest impact as a senior, and after seeing time on vault her freshman and sophomore seasons, and earning second team all-EAGL vault honors in 2009, she has evolved into a solid two-even specialist and currently ranks second in the league on bars.
A graphic design major, Kerwin has earned six bars scores of 9.8 or better this season, including two career-best marks of 9.825. She also owns a career-best 9.875 score on vault and scored a high of 9.8 in the season-opening meet.
Known for her grit and determination, the team co-captain will be best remembered for always being a motivating voice in Cary Gym.
Meaden joins Kerwin as a Mountaineer co-captain. Plagued by injury and illness throughout her first two seasons at WVU, the Milton Keynes, England, native emerged as a dependable contributor in 2010 as she competed on bars in all 13 meets and also saw time on floor. Owning career-best marks of 9.775 on bars and 9.75 on floor, she continues to see time in the Mountaineers’ bars lineup, and the EAGL all-academic team member has tallied a season-best 9.7 twice this year.
A two-time 2010 EAGL Rookie of the Week honoree, Meaden personified perseverance throughout her time at WVU.
While Pretzello is known as a consistent bars specialist, her teammates have come to depend on her light-hearted personality and comradery just as much as they depend on her scores. A Diamondhead, Miss., native, Pretzello is the glue that holds the WVU bars lineup together. Forced into duty last year, she finished seventh overall at the EAGL Championship with a season-best 9.825 score. Having competed in every meet this season, associate head coach Jason Butts knows that no matter which lineup spot he slots Pretzello, she will perform, as evidenced by her recent career-best 9.85 score on Feb. 26.
A team co-captain in 2010, Pretzello, a criminology major, earned WVU’s Sally Medrick Award in 2009.
Medina, Ohio, native Keaton made a career out of being WVU’s go-to gymnast when a lineup needs a reliable replacement. Having competed on each apparatus but bars, Keaton’s career is blossoming as of late. After competing on floor and vault last season, she returned to the beam lineup this year and hit a career-best 9.75 routine on Feb. 20. She also owns career highs of 9.75 on vault and floor.
Known for her creative eye and vocal team leadership, the fashion design major is a three-time NACGC/W Scholastic All-American.
Though injuries ended her senior season before it even began, Johnson remains one of the team’s most ardent leaders, encouraging her teammates and using her knowledge and skill to help the Mountaineers succeed.
A graceful gymnast, the Austell, Ga., native had an immediate impact at WVU as a freshman before earning all-EAGL bars first team and all-EAGL floor second team honors as a sophomore. Johnson, a multi-disciplinary studies major, earned 214.25 points in 2009 and set personal-best scores of 9.85 on bars and floor.
“This group has accomplished so much over the last four seasons,” Burdette-Good reflected. “Through success and setbacks, they have stuck together and persevered. I know this group is not done winning, and I’m excited for this last month with all of them.”
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