Head coach Mark Stevenson leads the EAGL champion Wolfpack to its 25th NCAA appearance
Pack sets season-best score of 48.850 on bars
Pack faces Heels for second time this season
Wolfpack finishes with a season-best score of 195.675
The first 2000 fans will receive free pink pom-poms in support of Breast Cancer
Mark Stevenson has constructed the NC State women's gymnastics program from the ground up. As the only gymnastics coach in school history, Stevenson enters his 33rd season. Through hard work of his own and each of his teams, Stevenson has made the Wolfpack into one of the top programs in the country while competing in one of the most competitive regions in the nation.
Last season, NC State returned to the NCAA Regionals for the ninth-straight year on the momentum built by a season spent occupying the national ranks. The Wolfpack opened the season ranked 10th by Troester.com and remained in the top-25 of the national rankings for seven of 11 weeks. Freshman Stephanie Ouellette qualified for the NCAA Championship for her sixth place all-around finish at the Athens Regional. The Pack saw six gymnasts capture All-EAGL First Team honors and ten EAGL All-Academic mentions, including senior Brittany Vontz who earned the ACC Post-Graduate Scholarship and the EAGL Scholar Athlete of the Year award.
In 2010, Stevenson led the Wolfpack to a second-place finish at the EAGL Championship and an eighth-straight NCAA Regional berth. Pack gymnast Taylor Seaman became NC State's first All-American by capturing the honor on bars at the 2010 NCAA Championship. Stevenson also helped the Wolfpack to a first-place ranking on bars in the EAGL. Seaman would also earn the Kinnett Award (given to NC State's top female athlete) and the Kay Yow Award, marking the second time in as many years that a gymnast has taken home the award.
The 2009 season saw Stevenson's fifth conference championship and fourth EAGL title. In addition, all-everything standout Taylor Seaman won the floor at the NCAA Regionals to advance to the NCAA Championships. She was the only gymnast in EAGL to be named first-team all-league on all four individual events and the all-around.
His 2008 team posted a 24-8 record and had all four of the events rank in the top-27 nationally, including the nation's 15th-best floor average. The 2008 Wolfpack led EAGL in vault, beam, floor and average team score, and was second in bars.
Leigha Hancock, who Stevenson called "the best three-event gymnast in school history," was a member of the 2008 team. Hancock won the beam title at the 2008 NCAA Regional to advance to the NCAA Championships. It was her second individual event win at a regional (2006 floor), making her the first gymnast to accomplish the feat in Wolfpack history.
Stevenson's teams have earned trips to the postseason 27 times and have been ranked among the top-25 for much of the past 18-plus years.
The Wolfpack won back-to-back EAGL conference titles in 1999 and 2000, and two of the last four (2007 and 2009).
Following the title win in 2000, Stevenson was named the NCAA Southeast Regional Coach of the Year, an honor he won again in 2008.
Stevenson was also named EAGL Coach of the Year in 2008, the third-straight season he had won the award and fourth overall (1998).
NC State has placed in the top-three at 12 of the 15 EAGL meets, setting a new league standard.
Under Stevenson's leadership, the Wolfpack has averaged over 20 wins a year the last 18 years and captured four EAGL championships and 10 individual event championships, as Lauren Deuser and Brittany Vontz were co-champions on bars and in 2008 when Hancock and Seaman earned co-floor championships with a 9.95.
Stevenson has had gymnasts earn 145 spots on All-EAGL teams since NC State helped start the league in 1996. He has also coached Christi Newton, who was the league's Gymnast of the Year in 1996 and Hancock, who earned the EAGL Outstanding Senior Award in 2008. A Wolfpack gymnast has also been named EAGL Rookie of the Year four times, Kara Charles in 1998, Leigh Hancock in 2005, Taylor Seaman in 2007 and Brittney Hardiman in 2008. Brooke Barr led EAGL with five Rookie of the Week awards in 2009 and fellow freshman Jess Panza had two such honors.
Like many of his gymnasts, Stevenson, who has 459 wins to his credit, has been recognized for his work. He has been named the NCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year on four occasions, in 1993, 1994, 2000 and in 2008 and was named EAGL Coach of the Year in 1998, 2006, 2007 and 2008.
"So much of the credit belongs to the kids," Stevenson explains. "It's hard to describe how proud I am of them. In the past, our gymnasts have been kids who weren't heavily recruited, but they have worked hard to get where they can compete with the best programs out there.
"I am especially proud of the kids for often being the underdog, but still getting the job done. We haven't won every meet, but we have beaten a lot of teams that we should not have been able to compete with. I can't tell you how good it makes me feel to have the kids come in at one level and then leave at a much higher one."
NC State's success in meets has carried over to the classroom as well. Since 1984, 89 gymnasts have been named to the ACC's academic honor roll 173 times, while 89 have also earned spots on the EAGL all-academic team, including an EAGL-best 16 in 2009. In 2004, NC State added a new award to its trophy case, as Marlyn Madey was named the EAGL Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Ashley Shepard won the honor in 2009 to cap off her career. The Wolfpack earned its highest academic honor to date following the 2000 season, when they ranked 16th in overall GPA for the 1998-99 academic year in the scholastic All-American team rankings released by the National Coaches Association. NC State was also named a 2002 NACGC/W Academic All-American team with 10 different gymnasts earning academic All-American honors.
NC State also had an impressive run going of valedictorians as Ashley Shepard made it three-straight gymnasts in 2009, joining Brooke Outland (2007) and Mackenzie Payne (2008).
"With the increase in scholarships, we've been able to recruit better students," Stevenson says. "I promised myself several years ago that if I had a choice between a fair gymnast with good grades and a good gymnast with fair grades, I would take the fair gymnast and help them become a better one."
Attendance at meets has grown with the success of the his program. NC State ranked 14th in average home attendance in 2009, drawing an average of 2,130 fans. That number was slightly higher in 2008, as the Wolfpack averaged 2,242 fans at its meets, the 12th-highest mark in the nation. In 2006, NC State once again was one of the most watched teams in the nation, notching yet another top-20 finish for attendance, with over 1,500 fans per home meet. In 1998, NC State set an EAGL single-meet attendance record with 6,196 fans for its meet against Georgia. To continue to help increase Wolfpack attendance, Stevenson has spearheaded efforts to sell season tickets and find corporate sponsors for meets.
With the increase in attendance and added interest in gymnastics, NC State hosted the first NCAA Regional Championships in the state of North Carolina in 2004, and again hosted the 2009 regionals. The Wolfpack has also played host to the EAGL Championships in 1997, 2005 and 2009.
The success of the NC State gymnastics program can be attributed to his coaching philosophy, which involves recruiting athletes who are motivated to be better at the end of four years in school, as well as finding talented walk-ons who can contribute during their career. Stevenson has first-hand experience with this approach. He began his competitive career at Iowa as a walk-on and went on to become a national championships qualifier.
"I went through the hard process of being a walk-on when I was in college," Stevenson says. "So I have a spot inside for kids who aren't satisfied with their skills and who want to work hard to become better athletes. A lot of schools don't take that approach because you have to teach them and help them develop their skills, but teaching them is what makes it fun.
"We recruit the best gymnasts we can find. We look at their academics, how much gymnastics have they already done and how long they have competed at a particular level."
Stevenson coaches gymnastics outside of the NC State program as well. Until it was sold a few years ago, he ran the Triangle Twisters, a gym school in Durham, N.C. He also runs state meets at various levels, often on weekends that the NC State team competes at home. During summers, he coaches at Woodward Gymnastics Camp in Woodward, Pa., where he is a director. He is also an officer of the EAGL, serving as the league's secretary and is responsible for awards at the league championships.
Prior to coming to NC State in 1980 as an assistant coach for the men's gymnastics team, Stevenson served as an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts for one season. The Minutemen compiled an 11-3 record and produced one All-American during his tenure.
Stevenson graduated from Iowa in 1978 with a B.S. degree in recreational education. At Iowa, he served as a team captain during his senior season. At the Big Ten Conference Championships in 1978, he placed second in the vault and qualified for the NCAA Championships, where he scored a 9.45. In 1984, Stevenson earned his master's degree in recreational resources administration from NC State.