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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Under the leadership of first-year coach Jason Butts, the West Virginia University gymnastics team opens its 2012 campaign on Sunday, Jan. 8, against preseason-ranked No. 13 Penn State and Maryland, at 2 p.m., at the WVU Coliseum.
WVU’s season opener also is a “Dollar Day,” with all tickets, hot dogs, popcorn and Coca-Colas available for $1 each. Additionally, the meet is a “Poster Day,” and the 2012 WVU poster will be available for all fans to pick up.
The Mountaineers, picked third in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) Preseason Coaches’ Poll, return to competition following a 13-10 2011 season that saw the squad place fourth at the EAGL Championship and sixth at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships.
“This team is very ready to go,” says Butts. “We wrapped up our last practice on Friday, and I haven’t seen this squad look so ready for a season opener in a long time.”
All-time, WVU is 6-35 against the Nittany Lions and 32-14-1 against the Terrapins.
The Mountaineers lost twice to PSU last season, 195.55-194.05, in University Park, Pa., and 195.825-195.025, in Morgantown. Picked to finish third in the Big Ten this season, PSU finished second in its conference last season and just missed qualifying for the national championships with a third-place finish at the NCAA regional championships. Juniors Sharaya Musser, a 2011 NCAA Championships individual all-around qualifier, and Madison Merriam are expected to lead the Nittany Lions.
Tomorrow’s meet is the first of two for the Mountaineers against the Terrapins this season. Picked fourth in the EAGL preseason poll, UMD returns to the gym after recording 23 wins in 2011; WVU and UMD did not meet during the regular season last year. The Terps are coming off a third-place finish at the 2011 EAGL Championship and a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships. Junior Ally Krikorian, the reigning EAGL vault champion, and sophomore Katy Dodds have been tabbed by coach Brett Nelligan as the Terps to watch.
“These are two good programs,” explains Butts. “Penn State is nationally ranked, so we’re going to have to make sure we step-up our game to remain competitive with them. Maryland is historically a great program. There is a bit of a rivalry there, since they’re also in the EAGL. We’re looking forward to welcoming them both to the Coliseum, and we hope we’re competitive with both teams.”
Butts, previously a five-year assistant coach under retired 37-year coach Linda Burdette-Good, is joined at the helm this season by fourth-year assistant coach Travis Doak and first-year assistant Bridget Boyd.
Nine Mountaineers return to lead WVU to its seventh EAGL title since 1996.
Tops among returners are senior Tina Maloney and sophomore Hope Sloanhoffer, and both are poised to compete as all-arounders this season.
Maloney, the 2009 EAGL vault co-champion, is a three-time all-EAGL gymnast and one of the squad’s strongest on vault and floor. A consistent competitor, Maloney, a Hanover, Ind., native, earned 328.5 points as a junior, the fifth-best point total on the team, and served as the team’s floor anchor in the last seven competitions; she is expected to assume that role again this season.
Sloanhoffer recorded one of the most memorable Mountaineer rookie seasons last year, as she competed as a three-event specialist – vault, beam and floor – and earned first-team all-league honors on each event. The Cornwall, N.Y., native competed well under pressure, finishing second on beam and vault at the league championship and fifth on floor. A nine-time EAGL weekly award honoree, Sloanhoffer scored 9.8 or better in 30 of 40 routines and did not fall all season. She is expected to also compete on bars this season.
Senior Nicole Roach will join Maloney as one of the team’s leaders. One of the region’s most-consistent bars workers, the South Lyon, Mich., native and three-time all-EAGL bars first team honoree will once again compete in the middle of the Mountaineers’ lineup. She also is expected to push for a spot on the beam lineup each week.
A trio of juniors – Chelsea Goldschrafe, Kaylyn Millick and Alaska Richardson - is expected to compete on at least two events each this season, while sophomore Makenzie Bristol returns to the floor lineup and looks to also push for a spot on beam.
Additionally, sophomores Bethany Yurko and Amanda Carpenter look to make their WVU debuts tomorrow on vault and beam, respectively.
Eight newcomers join the Mountaineers this season, with freshmen Dayah Haley, Lia Salzano and Beth Deal slated to compete immediately. Also joining the squad this year are sophomore transfer Erica Smith and freshmen Maci Sump, Parker Beattie, Reilly Beattie and Jamie Judge.
Fans wishing to follow the Mountaineers from home can find links for live stats and a live video feed at www.MSNsportsNET.com.