Senior Lisa Willis is one of eight competitors returning for the Cougars this season. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
Coming off its seventh consecutive NCAA Regionals appearance, spirits are high for the BYU gymnastics team heading into the 2007 season. An experienced core of competitors returns to mix with a host of talented newcomers, leaving the Cougars eying a return trip to NCAA Nationals.
"Our goal at the beginning of every season is to be at the National Championships," BYU coach Brad Cattermole said. "All of our meets and everything we do is geared toward the (NCAA) Regional Championships and then doing well enough to get to Nationals. I think this team has the desire to do it, and they are all working extremely hard to put it all together."
In 2006, a young BYU team battled injuries throughout the season. As a result many gymnasts gained valuable competitive experience. The team also came through with many strong performances when it could have folded. Seniors Kacie Capra Callens and Lisa Willis lead an experienced group of seven competitors from last year's Regionals team that includes juniors Dayna Smart, Kylee Draper, Alethea Boon and Aimee Walker Pond. A talented sophomore duo of Hayley Jensen and Brittany Fischer, both of whom competed extensively last season and at Regionals, will aid the team with experience and depth. Sophomore Melissa Pond returns from last year's team as well.
BYU will certainly welcome the return of Walker Pond back to the lineup. Pond, who is deaf in both ears and blind in her right eye, sustained a season-ending foot injury in the fourth meet of the 2006 campaign.
"Having Aimee (Walker Pond) back is a huge help for us on bars," BYU coach Brad Cattermole said. "When she hits a bars routine she can go 9.8 to 9.9, and those are hard to come by. She will definitely help us."
The Cougars are also excited about the addition of nine new and talented faces to the team. Joining the team after competing at the highest levels in Canada and in various international competitions are Jenna Kerbis, Melissa Hough and Danielle Goldman. Kerbis is a member of the Canadian National Team and helped lead it to a bronze medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia. She also placed fifth in the all-around at the Canadian National Championships this past year. Hough is a four-year senior high performer, and Goldman is a national-open competitor. Both have experience in international competitions. Megan Donehue, from Bountiful, Utah, was a top state and regional competitor. The rest of the newcomers include Kiki Berrett, Kaylee Gallup, Megan Perner, McKell Poulson and Heidi Poulson, all of whom will bring needed skill sets to each event.
Cattermole is optimistic that these newcomers will mix well with the returning group to give depth and added ability to a team that was hampered by injuries last season.
"We do have a lot of newcomers," Cattermole acknowledged. "But they are also the ones that are really excited to get out there and compete. They add a spark. This is a good solid team. We've got enough people that we don't have to compete somebody if they're injured."
Three of the Cougars' top vaulters are back from last season, including Smart, who placed fourth at the North Central Regional and had the team's highest score of the season at 9.875. Boon, who has posted a 9.900 on the event, and Jensen will join with Smart to anchor the lineup. Sophomore Fischer is also back to give depth to the vault squad.
"We're looking stronger than we did last year," Cattermole said. "(Alethea) Boon is back and healthy. That will make a difference. She will be much improved."
A thorn in its side at times last season, the team's bars lineup looks solid this year. Top scorers Callens and Draper, who each posted a pair of 9.875 scores, are back to lead the way. Senior Willis will give needed strength and experience while Walker Pond is back from injury after leading the team in its first two meets last season. BYU may see some new old faces on bars in Boon and Smart. Freshmen Kerbis and Hough could find their way into the lineup as well.
"It's a much better situation on bars this year," Cattermole said. "We've got more depth here. Five or six girls can do very good bar sets. As the season goes along we'll have some good competition to make the lineup."
Small changes in scoring criteria for this season should also aid the team with slightly higher scores.
One of the Cougars' strongest events the last two seasons, this season's beam squad looks solid. Smart, who has ranked ninth and16th, respectively, in the nation the last two years, will once again be the anchor for the lineup.
"Dayna (Smart) is stronger than she was last year," beam coach Shauna Mertz said. "She knows what it is all about. I expect good things from her."
She will not be alone though. Boon posted several 9.800-plus scores last year and will be looked to for scoring and consistency. Willis, Callens and Draper will all add experience and consistency to the group while several others are pushing for spots, creating additional depth.
"I really like the attitude of the girls this year," Mertz said. "They are getting in and working hard. We should be strong on beam this season."
BYU returns all but one competitor from its floor lineup last season. Callens posted many of the team's highest marks last year and will once again be looked at to lead the way. Smart and Willis, who holds the school's fifth-highest mark on the event, will also be relied on to produce high scores. Draper and Boon will add experience while Jensen and freshmen Goldman, Hough, Kerbis and Perner will all push for spots in the lineup.
"Everyone is working very hard and showing good things," floor coach Dawn Cattermole said. "We've got a lot more depth on floor this year."
Callens was the only all-around competitor for the Cougars last season. This year the senior could see more join her in competing on every event, including Smart, Boon and Kerbis.
Cattermole enters his 19th season at the helm of BYU Gymnastics. As in past years, his two experienced assistants, wife Dawn Cattermole and Mertz, will continue to aid him, especially on floor and beam. Dawn Cattermole, a former judge and highly respected coach in gymnastics circles, has produced a bevy of quality performers on floor throughout the years and will coach the floor squad again. Mertz, the 2006 BYU Assistant Coach of the Year, will again coach beam, which has become a real strength for the Cougars the past two seasons. Cattermole will also welcome the help of volunteer assistant Lena Johnson and student assistants Meghan Donahue, Cassie Myers and Kendra Stephenson.
Boon, Draper and Smart will be team captains for the 2007 season.
"The captains are exceptional," Cattermole said. "They're very motivated and good at leading by example. They all care about the success of this team."
BYU will face strong competition once again this season. The Cougars will kick off their season with a trip to Cancun, Mexico, for the Cancun Classic before their home opener against Texas Woman's University in the Marriott Center on January 12. Seven teams that finished 2006 in the top 20 will highlight BYU's schedule, including Iowa State, Missouri, Arkansas, Oregon State, Arizona, Denver and perennial national-power Utah. As usual, in-state foes Utah State and Southern Utah as well as Boise State will also be part of a very competitive 2007 schedule.