The BYU women's gymnastics team had high hopes for the 2002 season, with a veteran lineup hungry to make up for the late-season disappointment of 2001. Two-time All-American Kelly Evanson and the rest of the Cougars had set themselves up perfectly for another record-breaking season. The Cougars had one goal in mind at the beginning of the season - qualify for NCAA Nationals.
If the beginning of the season was any indication, BYU's postseason chances looked very good. The Cougars got preseason jitters out of their system with a meet at the Bahama Breeze Invitational. While BYU struggled to score well at the meet and eventually lost to both North Carolina State and Kentucky, head coach Brad Cattermole could tell his team had the talent to compete well with any team in the country.
After the meet in the Bahamas, the Cougars went on a winning streak that would take them almost all the way through the season. BYU began by travelling to and knocking off Oregon State, the team that eliminated the Cougars at Regionals in 2001. Then the Cougars defended their title at the Cat Classic at Missouri. The winning streak continued at Utah State with an impressive win over the Aggies. BYU
won yet again at Southern Utah and then came home and defeated Boise State and Utah State for a combined record of 8-2.
At each meet BYU improved its score, but still could not break the 196 barrier. Cattermole was waiting for the breakout meet, but it seemed like every meet had a fall or a stumble and BYU's season would be stuck in the mid-195s. The win streak came to an end at home against Utah when the Cougars failed to improve on their score for the first time of the season. BYU bounced back and knocked off Missouri the next week, but still didn't score well. The scoring slump cost the Cougars yet another loss, this time at Boise State.
BYU finally got the breakout meet it had been waiting for in the final home meet against Southern Utah. BYU knew it was going to be its night right from the start when the Cougars tied the school record on vault with a 49.175. BYU kept it going on bars with a 49.425, good for the second-best score in BYU history on that event. The Cougars scored their season-best on beam with a 49.125 to keep them on school record pace. BYU finished the night off by setting a new school record on floor with a 49.650. Overall, the Cougars tied their school record with a score of 197.375 and it seemed the Cougars were peaking at just the right time.
BYU had already lost to Utah at home earlier in the season, but it looked like the Cougars were primed to get the big upset at Utah in the final regular season meet. Utah had struggled just before the meet and BYU was hitting on all cylinders. Unfortunately for the Cougars though, it was not to be their night. Evanson did her job on the night, scoring a 39.675 in the all-around, but BYU had too many injuries and tough falls on key events to overcome. Brooke Craig, Megan Shupe and Candace Cosgrave all suffered injuries on the night and the Cougars lost to the Utes yet again.
Despite the setback, the Cougars still had confidence heading to the South Central Region as the No. 17 team in the nation two weeks later. The No. 1 team in the nation, UCLA, would also be at the meet, but the Cougars would have a good chance to compete for the final qualifying spot. Two teams would qualify for Nationals, and second place would come down to BYU, Arizona and Arizona State. BYU began the night on bars and seniors Jeni Lopez and Evanson both had mistakes in their routines that cost the Cougars a chance to start strong. BYU tried to play catch-up the rest of the night, but failed to score well enough on the other three events. In the end, BYU found itself in fourth place with a 194.000 behind UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State. Freshman Jaime Mabray led the Cougars with a 38.900 in the all-around and nearly qualified individually for NCAA Nationals. The Cougars finished the season ranked No. 24 in the nation, a slight improvement on 2001's final ranking of No. 26.
The early exit from the postseason was a disappointing send-off for four seniors, including Evanson, Jeni Lopez, Angie Hickman and Mindi Hilton. Hilton was unable to compete the second half of the season because of injury, but Lopez and Hickman provided consistent production throughout the season. Lopez excelled in the all-around, scoring a career-high 39.425 in the all-around against Southern Utah. Hickman competed on vault in every meet and also saw some action on the floor.
The Cougars excelled individually on the 2002 season, setting some new records along the way. Evanson broke her own school record in the all-around with a 39.700 against Southern Utah. She backed up that performance by hitting all her routines at Utah in the final meet of the regular season, scoring a 39.675 in the all-around. Evanson finished her career as a Cougar with the top nine all-around scores in BYU history.
While Evanson, Lopez, Hickman and Hilton will be leaving, the future still looks bright for the Cougars judging by some Cougar performances during the 2002 season. Sophomore Kari Dye scored a 9.975 on floor exercise to tie Kim Little's school record on that event in the Southern Utah meet. The next week at Utah, Dye tied the school record on balance beam with a score of 9.975. Freshman Jaime Mabray performed well in her first season with BYU, competing in the all-around in 10 of the 12 meets, with a high score of 39.350 at Boise State.
The Cougars will have a tough task ahead of them for the 2003 season, trying to make up for the loss of four seniors. The 12 Cougars returning to the BYU lineup are talented and will have much needed leadership from their two captains, Cosgrave and Craig. The rest of the team will need to step up and try to qualify for Nationals for the first time since 2000.