Captain Jessica Villegas will look to lead the Cougars this season. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO -- A new year for the BYU women’s gymnastics team brings a new season, new faces and a renewed desire to show the college gymnastics world what they can do. After a trip to NCAA Regionals in Los Angeles last season where the Cougars finished sixth, BYU anticipates this season bringing more success.
“We should be a little bit better in every event than we were last year,” BYU head coach Brad Cattermole said. “I think if we compete to our capabilities and do our best in every meet we can beat anyone out there.”
BYU will be led by seniors Jessica Villegas, who the team voted a captain, and Madeleine Johnson, who has been consistent over the past two seasons competing on bars, beam and floor.
“There’s always the question of how the seniors on a team will step up,” Cattermole said. “But we’ve got two good seniors and a good group of juniors so we’ve got a good group of leaders. Time will tell if they will step up and take charge, if they do then that will definitely help us.”
The juniors Cattermole refers to all came in together as freshman in 2009, joining a team that was incredibly young and injury plagued. Natalie Eyre, Krysten Koval, Jennifer Lezeu and Mickell Merrell were immediately thrown into the BYU lineup.
Although the 2009 season was a struggle for the team, the freshmen showed great maturity and learned a lot. Today, as juniors they are experienced and ready to step up for the Cougars as upperclassmen. Eyre has even been voted a team captain this season.
“Both Natalie and Krysten started to show consistency at the end of last season,” said Cattermole. “They made some mistakes along the way but they were capable of doing better. They worked hard over the summer to upgrade where they could become more consistent.”
Lezeu is another gymnast that Cattermole believes has a promising future this season.
“Jenn is a really hard worker,” Cattermole added. “And she’s caught on more to how college gymnastics works so she’ll help us out a lot.”
Also coming in as a freshman in 2009 was Holland Davis. However, due to an injury suffered on vault, Davis has sat out the last two seasons. Still, Cattermole is looking for big things from Davis.
“Holland is working really hard,” Cattermole said. “And she could help us out a lot on as many as three events. Hopefully she’ll regain her old form quickly and add consistency because I think she’ll do a great job.”
The team returns two sophomores-Sarah Yandow, who competed for the Cougars on vault last season, and Haylee Rollins.
“Haylee was one who came out very strong last season,” Cattermole said. “She’s improved her bar routine and added a better dismount. Her old dismount wasn’t bad but it’s improved now.”
BYU’s squad will feature five new freshmen: Megan Bain, Leslie Bell, KayCee Gassaway, JoJo Hayden and Raquel Willman.
“All the new freshmen can help us in more than one event,” Cattermole said. “These freshmen are ready to come right into the lineup. They just need to continue to improve, see how college works and they’ll help us out all over the place.”
The Cougars’ schedule will feature many gymnastics power programs as they face eight teams who were ranked in the nation’s top 25 at the conclusion of last season. These teams are in order of last year’s rankings: No. 9 Arkansas, No. 10 Utah, No. 11 LSU, No. 16 Auburn, No. 17 Iowa State, No. 18 Southern Utah, No. 21 Arizona and No. 22 Denver. They will also face in-state rival Utah State, Kent State and Texas Women’s University.
“The advantage to this is that they will see very tough competition,” Cattermole explained. “And we’ll learn how to hang with that kind of competition so that when we get to Regionals or Nationals it doesn’t surprise anyone because it’s what you’ve been competing against every weekend so you just go in and do your thing.”
BYU lost three strong gymnasts in Megan Donehue, Danielle Goldman and McKell Merkley last season. However, Cattermole still believes the Cougars will be strong on bars.
“We’ll be solid on bars,” Cattermole said. “It’s hard to replace half of your bar line-up but Jenn didn’t compete in bars last year and she probably will this year. Krysten will be back and Haylee has become much more solid. The new freshmen coming in will also contribute.”
Cattermole looks for the floor exercise to be BYU’s most improved event this season due to better health of those competing in the line-up.
“We will have healthier, stronger tumblers who should be able to practice more,” said Cattermole. “They should be more consistent so that hopefully we won’t have the same problems with going out of bounds or low landings that we had last year.”
With five strong beam performers returning in Johnson, Eyre, Lezeu, Koval and Rollins and several freshmen capable of stepping into the line-up, the balance beam looks to be a promising event for the Cougars in 2011.
Vault is the event that BYU will look to their freshmen for standout performances more than the other events. After losing their best vaulter last season in Danielle Goldman, the Cougars will need new faces to step in and make an immediate impact. Cattermole also emphasized the improvements that some gymnasts have made on the event, noting specifically Koval’s upgraded start value from a 9.9 vault to a 10.0 vault.