(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
On the heels of the team's eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA Regional Championships in 2007, the 2008 BYU women's gymnastics team is poised for another run at its 10th appearance in the NCAA National Championships, the biggest stage in collegiate gymnastics.
Some of the team's top returners include Dayna Smart-Allen, begins her final season after winning five all-around competitions in 2007, and Aletha Boon, a possible all-around competitor who last season tied the seventh-highest vault score in school history. With their experience, Smart-Allen and Boon will bring experience and leadership to the Cougar team this year.
Smart-Allen and Boon will be accompanied by teammates Kylee Draper-Marvin and Aimee Walker-Pond for their senior seasons as well. Juniors Brittany Fischer and Hayley Jensen round out the experienced group of upperclassmen.
Despite returning 13 gymnasts to the 2008 squad, the team is still young and features 10 underclassmen. Despite their youth, many will play big roles in the 2008 lineup. In fact, BYU head coach Brad Cattermole said his team will not be successful unless the entire team, both young and experienced, compete well.
"We've got a good group of kids, and we're going to compete by committee," he remarked. "We have a few girls that can compete well on all four events, but we're going to put together our six best kids on each event instead of having six hot-shot all-arounders."
Cattermole stressed that even though gymnasts compete individually on each apparatus, gymnastics is very much a team sport.
"For us to be successful, we, as a team, have to do well," he said. "We can't be successful because three or four girls did well on every apparatus. We have to win as a team with effort from everyone, and the whole team knows and understands that. College gymnastics is about the team, not about the individual. If we send an individual to Nationals and the team as a whole doesn't make it, we're proud and supportive. However, we're trying to get there as a group and win as a team."
BYU's 2008 schedule features perennial powerhouse Utah twice, along with other in-state rivals Southern Utah and Utah State. The team will also compete in meets against New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Boise State, and Arizona.
The goal for the 2008 BYU gymnastics team, as it is every year, is to qualify for the NCAA Regional Championships and score well enough there to earn a spot in the NCAA Championships. In order to reach that goal, Cattermole has taken a new approach with the 2008 schedule in order to best prepare his athletes for their work ahead.
"Last year, the girls worked really hard, and at the end of the season we had a lot of little injuries that forced us to work a little harder," he said. "This year we're going to cut back a few meets in order to keep the girls stronger at the end of the season. Younger teams also need more time to get ready to go. We're hoping to start the season running and not take a few meets to get our footing."
All in all, Cattermole said his team is getting better all the time. In assessing his team's strength in each event, he said he has been pleasantly surprised by the growth and improvement his team has made during its preparation for the season.
Returning with significant experience on the vault are Smart-Allen, who won four individual titles in 2007, Boon, who placed 11th at Regionals on the vault, Fischer, and sophomores Megan Donehue and Danielle Goldman. All five have posted scores of 9.650 or better in their careers. Cattermole said that due to extensive work his athletes have put in during the off-season, his lineup will feature six 10.00 caliber vaults.
"The girls will be doing a wide array of vaults, with many vaults that are not necessarily stock vaults," Cattermole said. "When people watch our vaults, they will be able to tell that what they are seeing isn't the norm. Most college kids stay within a few main vaults, but our team will be doing a number of different things that people and judges don't normally see."
The 2008 bars lineup will miss two consistent team members from last season, Kacie Kapra-Callens and Lisa Willis. Although this season's lineup may be younger, it still has the potential to be very strong. Draper-Marvin scored 9.825 or better in three events last year. Walker-Pond, who is deaf in both ears and blind in one eye, and sophomore McKell Poulson posted career-highs of 9.825 in 2007 bars competition. Donehue and fellow sophomore Melissa Hough have each scored 9.650 or better in bars competition and will likely have many opportunities to improve that statistic in 2008.
"We're coming along well on the bars," Cattermole said. "A few of the girls have really solidified their routines, and some of the freshmen are on the brink of doing so as well. They have a lot of talent, they just need to learn how to control it a little better."
Freshman Whitney Olsen, along with sophomore Kiki Berrett, will join Smart-Allen, Jensen, Boon, and sophomore Kaylee Gallup to form a probable starting six on the four-inch wide apparatus in 2008. Smart-Allen won eight individual titles on the beam in 2007, and she, Jensen, and Gallup all scored 9.8 or better in the event last season.
"I think we're really coming along on the beam," said Cattermole. "We weren't sure how good we'd be after we lost Willis and Kapra-Callens, but my confidence is building. We're really excited about the direction we're going in that event."
Smart-Allen will be returning on the floor exercise squad this season after garnering four individual floor titles last year. Draper-Marvin and sophomore Heidi Poulson, who each scored 9.800 or better three times last year, will join her. Boon, Goldman and Hough will likely round out the top six in the event.
"Everyone keeps progressing and improving in the floor exercise, and that's all we can ask," Cattermole finished. "Having a little more time to prepare seems to be helping us this year."