Oct. 26, 1999
COLUMBUS, Ohio – With 12 letterwinners returning from last year’s talented squad, the Ohio State women’s gymnastics team has high aspirations for the 2000 season. Headlining the group of returning letterwinners is a formidable quartet of all-American Lindsey Vagedes and all-Big Ten performers Mary Beth Doerr, Elizabeth Jensen and Jill Tucker.
But these four players are just the tip of what head coach Larry Cox expects to be a deep, well-rounded squad. After an 8-6 record and a NCAA Regional appearance last year, Cox is ready to take the Buckeyes to the next level.
“Building on last year’s season is important, for us,” Cox said. “We had trouble with competing well on the road. Your most important meets are on the road. So we have to take that very young group from last year which did very well at home and get them to do well on the road as well. Then, when we ascertain that level of ninth in the country again, we’ll be able to keep it there.”
Life on the road will be especially key this year, as the Buckeyes will open the season with three straight road matches, all of which will feature top-notch competition, including a meet at Arizona State which includes Stanford. Both squads ranked in the top 10 last year. In addition, the new regional tournament qualifying system has an added emphasis on road competition, meaning the Buckeyes must improve upon their 3-6 road record of 1999.
“This schedule puts a lot of pressure on us to do well early because if we’re going to use most of our road meets as an emphasis, the only three we have to pull from are Penn State, Pittsburgh and the Big Ten Championship,” Cox said. “We’re probably going to have to rely on them because the early season is usually a growing period.”
Cox will rely on his battled-tested veterans to provide some key leadership this season. At the top of the list is Vagedes, who garnered all-America status on the vault and in the all-around last year. She missed all-America status on the beam by just 25 hundredths of a point. While Cox is quite confident of Vagedes’ abilities, he also sees plenty of potential in several other returnees.
“I look for Stephanie Buerkel to really contribute even more,” Cox said. “She was in the all-around quite a bit last year. I think she’s going to do extremely well for us this year. Jill Tucker was third last year in the Big Ten on the vault and I think she can improve in vaulting and on the floor. She was a nice surprise for us.
“Mary Beth (Doerr) has shown a lot of improvement in a couple of events. She scored 9.9 on bars four times last year and she’s gotten even better in the event. She’s probably an all-American candidate on the bars this year.”
In addition to the young talent, Cox is expecting more out of his seniors.
“I’m looking for some leadership from Elizabeth Jensen and Jill McMillon,” Cox said. “They’re two different types of leaders, but that leadership is going to be very important for us.”
While Cox expects a lot from his upperclassmen, he said that there will also be a need for the sophomores to step up and make a difference, especially down the stretch.
“I expect a lot of the upperclassmen, but where the biggest change is going to have to occur is at the end of the season in the Big Tens and Regionals when the sophomores really need to gel,” Cox said. “That’s where we had problems last year. There is a lot of pressure in those meets, but they need to have grown through the year by that time.”
The Buckeyes also welcome five freshmen to the program this year. The quintet is a well-rounded group of individuals who will make an impact in all five events.
“Stefanie Marshall and Sarah Spring both have strengths and weaknesses,” Cox said. “Both of their weaknesses seem to be on the balance beam, and we’re OK with that because we’ve got Rickee Wirtzberger and Sheri Greig backing them up, and they’re both very strong in that event. I think all of them will contribute.”
The fifth recruit, Janine Ziernicki, is recouperating from a knee injury. While her status is still unclear for the season, Cox said she could be a key contributor on the bars for the Buckeyes. The bars are one of the concerns Cox has for the season.
“I think that our depth chart on bars is not as strong as it could be,” Cox said. “If we put our top six kids out there we’re good, but if we want to rest someone on bars or two or three at a time, we’re not looking at as good of a situation. But, for example, on the floor, we could put almost anyone out there and we’ll look about the same.”
In addition to a strong group on the floor, the Buckeyes also will look to continue their success on the vault, which was the team’s strong point last year.
“We were sixth in the country all year long last year on the vault,” Cox said. “I don’t look for that to change this year. It will be a very strong event for us.”
With the strong core of veterans and a flood of talented youngsters, the Buckeye program definitely is on the rise. The expectations are high, but the Buckeyes are up for the challenge.