2012 Gymnastics Preview

  • By Shannon McNamara
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  • January 08, 2012 08:30 AM
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - Change is often a difficult concept to come to terms with – there are those that embrace change whole heartedly, and those that shy away from it.

The West Virginia University gymnastics team is bound to face change throughout the 2012 season. The pillar of success and consistency throughout coach Linda Burdette-Good’s 37-year tenure, the Mountaineers will now compete under the guidance of Jason Butts, hired at the end of April following Burdette-Good’s retirement and only the third head coach in the program’s history.

Butts does not enter the job completely blind. Having risen from assistant coach to associate head coach over the last five years, he understands and appreciates the rich tradition of achievement the WVU gymnastics program has attained – and he’s ready to add to it.

“There is a confidence that already surrounds this team that I did not see throughout my first five years here,” Butts acknowledges. “Everyone is just excited. This team isn’t just talking about going to the national championships – they actually believe that they can be there and be competitive. They believe they can win the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) title. Everyone is moving succinctly on the same page – it’s exhilarating.”

While a partially new coaching staff will require an adjustment period – assistant coach Bridget Boyd joined the Mountaineers in June, while fourth-year assistant coach Travis Doak was retained – nine student-athletes return hungry to improve on the team’s 2011 record (13-10) and its fourth-place finish at the EAGL Championship and sixth-place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships.

“This year’s returning gymnasts remember those last two meets, and they are on a mission to avoid starting the season off in a hangover from last year’s conclusion,” Butts explains. “They are using that as their mission – their standard – to start this season off on a better foot. They want to be more consistent, and they want to communicate better and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

Leading the charge are seniors Tina Maloney and Nicole Roach. With experience in a combined 72 meets, the duo, both all-EAGL first team honorees, provide a steadying influence in Cary Gym.

Maloney, the 2009 EAGL vault co-champion, ranked No. 2 in the league and No. 8 in the Southeast region on the event last season with a 9.85 regional qualifying score. A vault and floor specialist, she earned her first all-around experience as a junior and has the potential to compete on all four events this season.

Roach, a three-time first team all-EAGL bars honoree, has consistently competed one of the region’s cleanest bars routines since 2009. Though she was hampered with a lingering arm injury near the end of her junior campaign, she still finished the season ranked No. 19 in the region on the apparatus, earning scores of 9.7 or better in all but two of her 10 routines.

“Even before the season starts, these two have already gone above and beyond what I have asked of them as leaders,” explains Butts. “I wanted them to help us get back to what it means to be a Mountaineer. I wanted them to make sure the team understands this program’s traditions and the things we want to build success on, and they have done an excellent job of communicating that to the team.

“They are both cool and calm when competing, and I think that will help the squad in the gym this season. They’re living up to one of our biggest philosophies – they’re entering their senior season competing their best gymnastics.”

Though she only has 13 career meets to her name, sophomore Hope Sloanhoffer sets the in-meet example for the Mountaineers. One of nation’s top gymnasts as a freshman, Sloanhoffer finished second in the league on vault and beam, earned first team all-EAGL honors on vault, beam and floor and scored a league-best nine EAGL weekly honors, including six EAGL Rookie of the Week nods. Most impressive, Sloanhoffer scored 9.8 or better in 30 of her 40 routines and did not fall all season. Additionally, she earned a team-best three scores of 9.9 or better, including a season-high 9.95 vault mark. She is expected to compete as an all-arounder this year.

“Hope came back this season, and she looks like she hasn’t missed a beat,” Butts says. “Her consistency and work-ethic are still top-notch. Even though she didn’t fall once as a freshman, she has put pressure on herself to improve, and she has upgraded each of her routines. She looks phenomenal.

“It’s fair to say that Hope is our in-meet leader; she earned that role with her consistency last season.”

Junior Chelsea Goldschrafe returns to the floor after enjoying a breakout sophomore season that saw her evolve into a three-event gymnast (vault, beam, floor) and score 348.3 points in 13 meets. A proven competitor that continues to surpass her potential, Goldschrafe has upgraded her bars routine and is expected to see action as an all-arounder this season.

Classmates Kaylyn Millick and Alaska Richardson also return with hopes of building on individual 9.9 scores from one season ago.

Millick, a potential all-arounder, emerged as one of the Mountaineers’ most consistent floor performers last season, as she earned six scores of 9.8 or better, including a career- and team-best 9.9 mark. Millick finished fifth on floor at the regional championships, the highest Mountaineer finish at the season-ending meet.

Richardson, an explosive vault worker, scored 9.75 or better on the event seven times, including her own career-best 9.9 mark. Also dynamic on floor, Richardson could see action on both events, as well as beam, this year.

Sophomores Makenzie Bristol, Amanda Carpenter and Bethany Yurko round out the Mountaineer returners. Of the three, Bristol was the only one to see action as a rookie, as she competed in eight meets and scored 9.75 or better on floor four times.

Eight newcomers join the Mountaineers this season, including sophomore transfer Erica Smith, a former junior international elite gymnast. Smith is joined by six freshmen: Parker Beattie, Reilly Beattie, Beth Deal, Dayah Haley, Jamie Judge, Lia Salzano and Maci Sump.

WVU’s 2012 slate features seven teams that finished the 2011 season ranked in the top 25, including three squads from the Southeastern Conference and two 2011 NCAA Championships participants in Arkansas and Michigan; the Wolverines advanced to the Super Six and finished in sixth place. The Mountaineers will compete in 11 regular-season meets, including five at the WVU Coliseum, and will face 18 teams.

Change is inevitable for WVU this season – and the Mountaineers are ready to embrace it. While adjustments will be made, the 2012 squad is determined to see that the rich tradition of winning continues at WVU.

Vault Preview

The Mountaineers’ vault lineup was one of the most fun units to watch throughout the 2011 season. While WVU is forced to replace Emily Kerwin at the No. 1 spot and all-arounder Amy Bieski’s 9.8 average, five key contributors return, with newcomers waiting in the wings to add to the lineup’s proven explosiveness.

“We have had a lot of returners already step up in this event, as well as some newcomers, and I see vault competing just as strong, if not improving, this year,” says Doak.

Tops among returners is Sloanhoffer. A 2011 all-EAGL first team honoree, she ranked first in the league, sixth in the region and 37th in the nation last season with a 9.865 RQS and anchored the lineup in 11 meets. She scored 9.9 or better twice and owns a career-best score of 9.95.

Maloney and Richardson also scored 9.9s last season and are set to again contribute high marks, with the coaches believing that Richardson may have her best season yet on vault.

“Alaska’s vault is bigger this season,” Doak explains. “The combination of Alaska, Tina and Hope is a strength for this team.”

Goldschrafe and Millick also return; competing the event for the first time in 2011, Goldschrafe ended the season ranked No. 24 in the southeast region with a 9.785 RQS.

“I feel like this is the strongest vault lineup that we have ever had,” Butts expands.

Haley is tops among newcomers with potential to compete vault this season, while Bristol, Yurko and Deal are all working toward a spot in the lineup.

Bars Preview

Graduation left the bars lineup depleted, as Bieski, Kerwin, Faye Meaden and Alysha Pretzello all moved on. Yet, WVU is more confident than ever that this unit will be one of its strongest in competition.

“We have six 10.0 bars sets without even blinking an eye this season,” says Doak. “In the past, I saw some panic if someone went down with an injury. Not this season – this group is confident in its abilities.

“The six routines that are ready to go are great routines. We lacked clean lines in the past, but not anymore. This is another event where we not only brought in a lot of freshmen that are ready to go, but also our returners are assuming more responsibility and upping their production, too.”

Roach, coming back from offseason surgery, looks to regain her spot among the region’s best. Millick also returns, and while she competed in all but one meet last season, Butts believes her best bars routines are before her.

“Kaylyn’s routine is looking great,” says Butts. “Despite having a new routine, she’s our most consistent worker right now.”

Maloney and Sloanhoffer will build off the first-time experience they gained in 2011 and should push for lineup spots.

The coaches are most excited for Yurko and Carpenter’s potential on the event, while Goldschrafe is expected also to emerge as a threat on bars.

“Amanda has huge potential here,” says Butts. “She has a beautiful routine and is very aggressive. I think once she becomes more consistent,

she will be able to produce a good score for us.”
Newcomers looking for time in the bars lineup include Haley, Smith and Salzano.

Beam Preview

First-year assistant coach Bridget Boyd will lead the Mountaineers’ beam unit this season. Enthusiastic and willing to work on the small details with each student-athlete, Boyd believes the beam unit, easily the team’s deepest lineup, enters 2012 with a refreshed confidence.

“I’m looking for all of them to compete with a lot more confidence this year,” says Boyd. “I’ve thrown a lot of different assignments at them throughout preseason to keep them on their toes, so they never knew what to expect.”

Nine Mountaineers saw time on beam in 2011, and all but three return. Sloanhoffer, ranked No. 1 in the league, No. 4 in the region and No. 17 nationally last season, is expected to anchor the lineup again, while Goldschrafe, proven in the leadoff position over the last two years, could assume the role again this year. Millick, No. 3 on the team last year with a 9.492 average, also is expected to contribute this season.

Roach and Maloney, key contributors throughout the last three seasons, are expected to become weekly features in the lineup.

Boyd believes Deal will heavily factor into the unit’s success this season.

“I can’t wait to see what Beth does this season,” Boyd enthuses. “Her look and her style are amazing.”

“Skill-wise, this is a national championship team on beam,” says Butts. “The event is mentally challenging, but coach Boyd has done an incredible job with this unit. They are having fun on beam this year, and everyone is excited to compete; no one is afraid of falling.”

Expect at least five other Mountaineers to push for a lineup spot this season, including Haley, Richardson, Carpenter and Smith.

Floor Preview

Eighty percent of the Mountaineers’ floor lineup returns from 2011, with only Bieski’s 9.767 average lost to graduation.

While six proven floor competitors return, each will compete either a new or reworked routine. The new routines not only promise high score potential, but also guarantee an exciting meet for Mountaineer fans.

“We’ve capitalized on what these student-athletes have competed before,” explains Doak. “A lot of the existing routines are upgraded, and they’re ready to go now. In the past, we’ve built toward that near the end of the season, but they are safe, clean routines that will be ready to go in January.”

Sloanhoffer and Millick lead the pack of returners, as the duo ranked No. 8 and No. 19, respectively, in the region last season. Maloney also ranked No. 25 last year, while Goldschrafe looks to capitalize on her 9.744 season average. Bristol and Richardson split time on floor last season, and each is expected to push for a full-time lineup spot this year.

“I would be proud to compete every floor routine we have at the national championships,” says Butts. “Our dance and presentation look great; I love the music. I think you’ll see a lot of explosive tumbling out of this team, especially Tina and Alaska.”

New faces that could see time in the lineup are Haley and Salzano.

“We have some freshmen that have come in that have turned everyone’s head,” says Doak. “Dayah opens up her routine with an E tumbling pass; we haven’t competed a routine like that in at least five years. We have some difficulty in our tumbling if we want to go with it, and that’s exciting.”