2014 Gymnastics preview

(Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah -- After placing fifth at regionals and going 12-12 overall in 2013, the BYU women’s gymnastics team looks to improve from last season with 14 returning gymnasts and nine incoming freshmen.

“I think we’ve improved from last year,” said BYU head coach Brad Cattermole. “We can compete with anybody; it really comes down to if we can stay healthy. Our girls will be in it every meet.”

The Cougars joined the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championship this year, an alliance formed by five schools, to compete for a championship at the end of the season. The winner will be determined on March 22 as the five teams meet in Provo on the last week of the regular season.

BYU joined the MRGC this year along with Utah State, Boise State, Southern Utah and Denver. This marks the first time the Cougars will compete for a regular-season championship since 1993 when they were members of the Western Athletic Conference.

Boise State was picked to finish first in a preseason coach’s poll. BYU checked in at No. 4 just ahead of Utah State.

“I think the MRGC is going to be really good for us,” Cattermole said. “Last year, BYU was singular in that we didn’t have a conference championship.”

BYU’s 12-meet schedule features seven teams currently ranked in the top 25, including Utah, Michigan, Arizona, Denver, Washington, Boise State and Arizona State. Five meets will be at home, including the last meet of the season when BYU hosts the inaugural MRGC event at the Marriott Center.

The Cougars return three seniors in Raquel Willman, Haylee Rollins and Jordan Hayden, five juniors and six sophomores. Rollins led the team on the bars (9.840 average) and on the floor (9.820), while Willman was the team leader on the beam (9.73).

Juniors Megan Bain and KayCee Gassaway should both have a big impact on the team this year. Gassaway returns to the team after redshirting last season, and Bain was one of the best all-around gymnasts in 2013. She notched a personal-best 39.25 at Southern Utah.

“KayCee is back and looking good on vault and bars,” Cattermole said. “She might get into floor lineup also.”

Makenzie Johnson, a sophomore, began last year competing in three events as a freshman and worked her way into the all-around lineup. She led the team with an average of 9.77 on the vault and posted a top mark of 9.875 at Southern Utah.

Nine incoming freshmen will join the team this season, the most of any team in the MRGC. The last time BYU introduced nine or more freshmen was in 2009 with nine.

The Cougars open their season Saturday in Salt Lake City against Utah, Boise State and Southern Utah. BYU will host Denver for the first home meet of the season on Jan. 31.