The women’s gymnastics team, having lost only two seniors from last year’s squad, looks to improve this season on its 14-14 mark in 2004. The Owls, with a school-record 24 members, will field a mix of experience and potential in their first home meet of the season tomorrow against Rutgers.
Several promising freshmen, including Brittany Matthews and Alycia Petitto, competed in the Owls’ first two meets, which bodes well for this season and beyond. Coach Ken Anderson, who has been at the helm for 20 years, said the Owls should be strong for years to come.
“We conduct a preseason practice and have judges come in and score the girls,” Anderson said. “This year, because of the big team, I pitted the 12 freshmen and sophomores against the 12 juniors and seniors to see how they stacked up. The freshman/sophomore team lost by only 0.25 points… These close scores tell me we have power all around.”
Considering how close the preseason scores were, the experienced gymnasts expect the underclassmen to give them a run for their money.
“We really have to increase our skill level, with more gymnasts looking for spots to compete in during meets,” junior Dierdre Mattocks said. “I’m more worried this season about earning a spot than my previous two seasons.”
The freshmen may be making some noise, but the Owls are still led by seniors Alexis Zafferes and Erin Davis, and juniors Erika Messa, Lindsey Stern, and Mattocks. Messa and Stern are the team’s captains this season.
“Lexi and Erin have the most collegiate experience, and with both of our captains pushing themselves hard, we hope to finish in the top three in the conference,” assistant coach Aaron Murphy said. Murphy, now in his third season as assistant, was the 2004 USAG Assistant Coach of the Year.
Davis said she believes having a bigger squad will work in the Owls’ favor.
“It’s a team full of talent and depth, as well as an enthusiastic bunch,” Davis said.
Murphy said the long preseason, which lasts from September to December, has kept the gymnasts in shape, but has also led to some injuries.
“We have six gymnasts with small injuries, but nothing that will hold them back,” he said. “We’ll have our big guns in there [against Rutgers].”
Many of the Owls said they are anticipating the home opener.
“I’m looking forward to it very much,” Murphy said enthusiastically. “This [rivalry] dates back for years. We’re friends outside of the gym, but once we put the uniforms on, we are arch-rivals.”
“I don’t think we’ve ever beaten Rutgers while I’ve been here,” Mattocks added. “But our chances are better this year because of depth.”
Other tough opponents this season include Penn (Feb. 5 and 9), Maryland (Feb. 11), and Rhode Island (Mar. 5).
In the early season, junior Jennifer Blatt received the vote for most improved gymnast from last year.
“After a minor contribution last year, she’s been a force on vaults, balance beam, and recently she started competing on bars, too,” Murphy said.
Coaches warned to keep an eye out for freshmen Christine McNeill, Petitto, Desiree Meredith, and Kristin McRell, as well as with sophomore Sarah Liebowitz, a specialist on uneven bars.
“Christine has the skill, but needs to adjust to college gymnastics,” Davis said. “More confidence and a little more practice will help her.”
Zafferes praised the potential of Liebowitz, saying that in the next two years she should not only contribute, but “could be top on the team.”
The coach said his team’s balance goes hand-in-hand with his mindset. Anderson looks for the whole team to play well and get awards rather than for one or two players dominate all the events.
“Team is family,” he said.
Dan Murphy can be reached at spazzRC03@aol.com.