Hayley Jensen was one of several young gymnasts that stepped up as the Cougars enjoyed their seventh-consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance in 2006. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Success came in different ways for the 2006 BYU Gymnastics team. After a highly successful 2005 season, the 2006 season could have been termed a disappointment. However, it made its seventh consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance and finished the regular season with a No. 30 national ranking. The Cougars did this with a very young roster that contained nine gymnasts with one year of collegiate experience or less and no seniors with competitive experience. The young squad also fought through tough injuries the entire season and pulled out great performances at times when it could have folded.
"A lot of kids got the chance to compete when they weren't expected to," BYU coach Brad Cattermole said. "They gained experience that will eventually be a real strength for us."
BYU faced tough competition throughout the season. In the Cougars' first meet of the season they traveled to Oregon to compete with Oregon State and Florida, both of which were among the 12 teams competing at Nationals and ranked in the top 15. The team also had meets with perennial national power and No. 2-ranked Utah, No. 15 Arizona and Florida yet again. It also had two meets each with regular-season No. 25 Southern Utah, Boise State and Utah State. This difficult schedule gave the young Cougars great experience while learning what needed to be done to produce high-scoring routines.
"We definitely struggled at times," Cattermole said. "But we showed that we could be very good on certain events on any given night."
Injuries managed to hit the team hard and early too. Before the season began, the Cougars lost talented freshman Haleigh Schofield to a season-ending knee injury. In their fourth meet of the season, Aimee Walker Pond, a top performer on both vault and bars, and senior Kendra Stephenson also suffered season-ending injuries. Throughout the rest of the season several others fought various other painful injuries that limited their practice time and effectiveness.
"Injuries are part of the wonderful world of gymnastics," Cattermole said. "A lot of girls were banged up the entire season and have had surgeries since the season ended. But they kept competing hard all the way through."
Several of these injuries proved to be blessings in disguise for the Cougars. In addition to learning to persevere through the challenges they presented, BYU had several gymnasts step up in big ways to help propel the Cougars through and on to Regionals. Jennifer Matthews stepped into the bars lineup in the fifth meet of the season and contributed several solid performances the rest of the way. Freshman Brittany Fischer also stepped in and helped the team to two 49.000 scores on vault while Kylee Draper, a walk-on in 2005, became one of the team's best performers on bars.
"Kylee did a great job," Cattermole said. "She went from barely making the bars lineup last year to competing on three events for us. She's a tough competitor."
BYU performed pretty well most of the season on vault. Six different Cougars produced career highs on the event at some point during the year. After being up and down through the first five meets, the Cougars broke out a season-best 49.000 performance against Utah. From there they remained fairly consistent the rest of the season and finished strong with another 49.000 at Regionals. Dayna Smart led the team in every meet except one, when she sat out due to a minor injury, with a career- and team-best 9.875 twice. Freshman Hayley Jensen became a key contributor on the event as she topped 9.725 nine times on the season, including a career-high 9.800. Junior Sierra Jacobs also came through with a career-best 9.850 against Utah midway through the season and again at Regionals, where she tied for fourth place with Smart.
Bars proved to be both a thorn in the side as well as a strength for the Cougars. They found themselves struggling at times while putting together solid routines and high scores at other times. After a poor performance against Utah, they broke through to a season-best 49.150 on the road against Arizona and Florida and followed that up with a 49.000 against Boise State. Kacie Capra recorded several strong performances, including back-to-back 9.875 outings that tied with Draper for team-high honors on the season. Draper, a walk-on last season, became the perhaps the Cougars' top performer on the event with five 9.800 plus performances. Matthews, a senior who had only exhibitioned on the event her first three years with the team, became a consistent competitor who helped push the team through to NCAA Regionals. She had a career-best 9.825, the third-highest score of the season, in the meet against Arizona.
While other events may have been troublesome at times, beam proved to be the team's most consistent event. Behind the coaching of Shauna Mertz, the Cougars finished the season ranked No. 16 on the event. Three gymnasts recorded career highs while five produced scores of 9.800 or better on perhaps the toughest apparatus in college gymnastics. The team recorded eight score of 48.500 or better while producing two 49.000 plus outings and tying the tenth-highest beam score in school history, 49.150, in its last regular-season meet against Utah. Smart led the team eight times on the event while scoring 9.800 or better eight times with a team-high 9.900 and four 9.875 outings. She finished the season ranked 16th in the nation on the event. Junior Kandis Kelly was also strong, recording the second-highest score of the year at 9.875. Alethea Boon, who notched two career-best 9.850s, Lisa Willis, who came back after redshirting the previous season due to injury, and Draper were also strong contributors.
"We've been strong there the last two years," Cattermole said. "We've got some excellent beam workers that have added some real strength to the team."
Historically one of the Cougars' strongest events, floor once again provided some of the team's highest scores of the season. Against SUU on Feb. 10, the team scored a 48.875, which they later matched against Boise State on March 11. In their last home meet of the season when they needed a meet score of 195 or better, the Cougars broke out a season-best 49.225 mark to propel them to a 195.425, the team's highest score of the season. Five individuals recorded career-high scores on floor at some point during the season. Capra and Jacobs held the team's highest marks of the season at 9.875 while Smart and Boon each posted career highs of 9.850. Willis, who holds the fifth-highest mark in school history on the event, came back from injury last year to post a 9.750 mark or higher in all but three meets including a pair of 9.825s. Draper also posted a career-best 9.775 twice.
Some of the good individual efforts throughout the season proved to be the difference in helping the team advance to the NCAA North Central Regional. Once there however, the Cougars found themselves in the toughest regional in the country, with all six competing teams ranked in the top 25. BYU not only fought talented teams but tough judging the entire night. After having their collective struggles during the competition, the team finished off the meet by tying their season-best 49.000 on vault.
"It was a tough way to end the season," Cattermole said of NCAA Regionals. "We were a much better team than what we showed. I was pleased to see them go out and end things on a strong note."
Awards and Acholades
Mertz, the beam coach, was named 2006 Assistant Coach of the Year at BYU's annual Y Awards presented April 11 honoring the efforts of BYU coaches, athletes and volunteers on and off the field. Former gymnast Marie-Helene Claveau was also honored that night as she received the Lu Wallace Outstanding Senior Female Athlete Award.