After a year that saw the Cougars suffer injuries to several key gymnasts and the graduation of team leader Natalie Broekman, the BYU women's gymnastics team is looking forward to a season of healthy gymnasts and success.
Because of the high number of injuries that occurred to last year's team, BYU Head Coach Brad Cattermole has adjusted the preseason workouts that his team has gone through.
"I think we've got a very strong team this year," Cattermole said. "We've started a little slower this season. We're hoping that we'll be able to keep the team healthy throughout the season."
The slower training pace may cause the Cougars to be less prepared for early season meets as they have been in the past, but Cattermole hopes the easier beginning will lead to a healthier end.
A healthier end is also something that standout Denice Pauga is looking forward to as well. Pauga, a senior, missed last season with a broken hand that she suffered while practicing the uneven bars a week before the start of last season. Now fully recovered, Pauga is looking to lead BYU to a successful season.
"Denice is a standout performer and she's always been that way," Cattermole said. "We've been trying to start slow to protect her. She's a great bar worker and does well on the beam and the floor as well."
Pauga has had high scores of 9.925 (beam), 9.875 (bars and vault) and 9.850 (floor). She also had a high score of 38.575 in the all-around.
Other gymnasts expected to help in the all-around for the Cougars are sophomore Kelly Parkinson and junior Kim Little.
Parkinson, from Houston, Texas, was hurt through half of the season last year and fell one meet short of qualifying for the regional meet. Her career-high 39.425 was the second highest of the season, behind only Natalile Broekman's BYU record 39.475. Parkinson also set career highs in vault (9.850), bars (9.875), beam (9.850) and floor (9.925) to go along with the all-around score of 39.425.
Little was one of two Cougars to qualify for the regional meet last year. She competed in the all-around in every meet for BYU.
"All three of them (Pauga, Parkinson and Little) are capable of setting school records," Cattermole said. "They are each very talented and bring a great deal to the team.
Besides the leadership that Pauga brings as a senior, three other Cougars are in their final season and are looking to finish strong.
Senior Leah Niepraschk should bring strong leadership to the team as a bars specialist. Her ability to score well on the bars is something Cattermole likes about her.
"She does very well on the bars and she has a difficult routine," Cattermole said. "Her routine could be a 10 if she does it like I know she's capable of doing it."
Jessica Taylor, another senior, should give the Cougars added depth and leadership, especially in the vault.
"She has done very well on the vault," Cattermole said. "She had an exceptional sophomore season and she is starting to show signs of doing as well as she did then. She has the potential to be one of our best vaulters."
Senior Hilary Johnson brings more than her physical skill to the team. She brings a work ethic and attitude that Cattermole feels is imperative to his team's success.
"She (Johnson) is just a standout kid," Cattermole said. "She is one of those athletes that, by sheer determination, wills herself to be great. When a young gymnast comes to me and asks me what they need to do to be a successful gymnast I can just tell them to watch Hilary."
Jennifer Thomas, a sophomore from Gilbert, Ariz., was the only other regional qualifier for the Cougars last season and she will need to have success this season as well if BYU is to be successful as a team.
"She could be another 39+ all-arounder and she's going to have to be if we're to be successful," Cattermole said. "I think she'll do well."
If BYU can avoid injuries and have development from the younger members of the team, then Cattermole feels confident his team can accomplish anything.
"Gymnastics isn't about losing to a team that got lucky," Cattermole said. "It is about executing what you're asked to do. If we do that we'll be fine."