The 2001 season was a great one for the Ohio State women’s gymnastics team, full of school records and impressive wins. But there still is a lot to accomplish in 2002. After stellar performances last season, the Buckeyes are looking to build on their wealth of experience and talent and put it all together to achieve their ultimate goal – reaching the NCAA Championships.
“I thought last year’s season was so good in terms of consistency and performance that I expect to take that up another notch,” head coach Larry Cox said. “We’ve got the experience coming back and we have some good freshmen coming in to contribute that competed at the national level. We have a lot of good leadership, and I’m excited about Mary Beth Doerr being team captain – only the third one in 23 years. We have a lot going for us. I’m looking to carry a good regular season into a great postseason.”
Seniors Look to Step It Up
The Buckeyes’ senior class of Amanda Allen, Stephanie Buerkel, Mary Beth Doerr and Jill Tucker has been a solid one throughout its tenure at OSU. Cox is expecting them to be mentors for the entire team, especially the talented freshman class.
“That class has been wonderful every year,” Cox said. “They have been very consistent and have improved every year. We’ve got Jill Tucker, who qualified on floor to the national championships in 2000. She certainly knows what it takes to advance at the end of the season. We’ve got our leadership in that class, so I’m really looking for that more than anything.”
Buerkel has been a consistent all-around performer throughout her career, but a back injury limited her to just floor exercise, balance beam and uneven bars last year. Cox expects her to be back in the all-around this year. Doerr is a two-time All-Big Ten recipient on uneven bars and has fallen just twice on bars during her three-year career. Allen also provides consistency on bars, beam and floor for the Buckeyes.
Plenty of Contributors
Ohio State loses just two letterwinners – Lindsey Vagedes and Susan Kinkaid – from last year’s squad. Eleven letterwinners are back, so there will be plenty of competition for the starting lineups.
Vagedes was one of the most decorated gymnasts in Ohio State history and provided big scores in all four events in every meet. While her absence is a big blow, Cox expects the rest of the Buckeyes to pick up the slack.
“I think we are going to be fine, and I think we may even increase our depth, especially with our freshman class,” Cox said. “Losing somebody who competed so well in that event can be scary, but I like what we’re gaining.”
With the loss of Vagedes, junior Sarah Spring takes over the role as OSU’s top all-arounder.
“I look for Sarah Spring to improve in the competitive arena,” Cox said. “She did that already, but she is a good example of taking it the next step. She made a lot of improvements last season.”
Sheri Greig also made a tremendous improvement last season, providing key performances on floor, vault and beam. Stefanie Marshall was a consistent force on uneven bars and has fallen just one time in her OSU career.
The Buckeyes also will benefit from the return of Rickee Wirtzberger. After competing at the 2000 NCAA Championships in the floor exercise, Wirtzberger was sidelined in 2001 with a neck injury. She will give the Buckeyes a boost on floor and beam.
No Sophomore Slump Expected
Last year’s freshman class provided some key routines last year, but Cox wants a lot more this season.
“We’re expecting the sophomore class to step up,” Cox said. “They could certainly make another notch of improvement and make more of an impact. They’re pretty hungry.”
Tiffanie Janke was a stellar contributor last year for the Buckeyes, especially on her forte, balance beam. Jenni Lymanstall was the Buckeyes’ most consistent performer on balance beam last year, recording the team’s highest beam score of 9.925 at Illinois. Barring injury, she is another all-around candidate.
Megan Porter gave the Buckeyes some excellent performances on uneven bars and balance beam last year, and Cox is looking for more consistency from her in both events. Bethany Groskopf and Julie Levi did not compete as freshmen, but both are expected to vie for starting positions.
New Buckeyes Aim for Positions
Cox brought in a stellar recruiting class, led by Shelley Harris, the 2001 Junior Olympic national all-around runner-up. She is expected to contend for the all-around position left by Vagedes.
“Shelley only missed one routine all of last year,” Cox said. “That’s pretty incredible. She has that same attribute that Lindsey does in being able to compete.”
Laura Sommerville finished seventh at the J.O. nationals on bars last year. She should provide even more depth in the event for the Buckeyes, but she also is expected to vie for positions in the other three events.
Lina Kulkarni and Elizabeth Meaney round out the freshman class. Both are solid on balance beam, with Meaney earning the Region 5 beam championship last season. They should provide immediate depth for the Buckeyes on beam, which was OSU’s weakest event last season. Both are strong on floor as well.
Powerhouses Highlight Schedule
Cox is not one to shy away from competing against the big guns of college gymnastics. This year, OSU will meet Utah for the first time in the history of the two programs. Even more daunting, the Buckeyes will travel to Salt Lake City, where the Utes have not lost since 1979- a streak of 164 meets.
“It seems like we do that more and more every year and yet we survived the season last year with a pretty good record against strong teams,” Cox said. “We’re meeting Utah, who is prominently strong every year. But anytime you can compete in front of 10,000 people in a high energy situation, it is a good opportunity.”
The Buckeyes also add rival Michigan to the schedule this season. The Wolverines join Minnesota, Illinois, Pittsburgh and Iowa as schools that will visit St. John Arena this season. OSU travels to Oklahoma, Kentucky, the Circle of Stars meet (at Ball State) and Michigan State.
Ohio State also will serve as the host for the Big Ten Championships. While the Buckeyes expect to do well in that meet, their main goals will come in the following weeks at the NCAA Regionals and NCAA Championships.
“We’ll never stop reaching for the best,” Cox said. “We want to raise our Regional Qualifying Score. We want to win the Big Ten Championships and qualify for the NCAA Championships and be one of the top 12 teams. Our ultimate goal is to be in the Super Six (at the NCAA Championships).”