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    Pack Gymnastics Poised for 2012

    Dec. 1, 2011

    Even the most hardcore State fans might find it difficult to name the Pack's most successful athletic program during the 2010-11 academic year. According to the NACDA Directors' Cup, that honor belongs to Wolfpack gymnastics, and head coach Mark Stevenson plans for this year's squad to surpass those lofty standards.

    "I think we've probably got the most talented team we've ever had in the gym right now," said Stevenson. "There's a tremendous amount of quick, aggressive young women on this team that have great attitudes about putting themselves forward in a positive manner. If everyone continues to improve the way they've been improving, I think we're looking at the best year we've ever had."

    Last year, the Pack spent the entire season ranked inside the top-25, and rebounded from a disappointing EAGL Championship meet in thrilling fashion at the NCAA Southeast Regional in Athens, Ga. There, the Wolfpack posted its highest score in an NCAA Regional since 1999, and sent freshman gymnast Stephanie Ouellette to the NCAA Championship as an individual.

    "We struggled at EAGL last year, not so much because of the team attitude or anything, but we had two really good events on floor and vaulting first," said Stevenson. "Then, we did a really good job on bars that we didn't really get rewarded for, and it really took their minds away from the next event. We were within striking distance of winning the meet going into beam, but I think their focus was on the disappointment of bars instead of what they had to do to get it done.

    I talked about it, but obviously I didn't get through to them well enough. I have to take a little bit of the blame. What it did for us, though, was made our workouts the next Monday preparing for the regional very focused and very determined. They were unhappy about the performance they put out at EAGL. I'd like to win both EAGL and the regional, but in a lot of ways, I'd rather be in the mix at the regional, because that's what puts us on the final floor at nationals."

    Ouellette maintained her composure on the national stage to score the highest all-around performance by an NC State freshman at the NCAA Championships, and the fourth best in the program's history, hitting all four routines in her debut.

    "Stephanie has national experience," said Stevenson. "If you count Level 10 Nationals, she has seven years of experience on the national stage. She's learned how to make herself a competitor at the end of the year.
    In addition to Stephanie, Rachel [Fincham]'s the best bar worker we've had the last two years. She's finally gone through a whole summer without having an ankle surgery. Right now, she's right there with Stephanie and Jess [Panza] when it comes to the all-around, she looks great on every event. We could easily have those three competing in the all-around most of the season and into the postseason if they stay healthy."

    Outside of the Pack's headliners, the team boasts an incredibly deep array of talented returners and four newcomers, all of which Stevenson expects to contribute right away.

    "I expect big things from all of my seniors, because they've put so much time and energy into this team," said Stevenson. "Brooke [Barr]'s been working to get back on bars, Alex [Williams] will do two events for us, Anna [Kronenfeld] could potentially do two events for us. If you add up all their contributions, 11 of our 24 routines are going to come out of seniors this year. The expectation is that those seniors will do a great job for us, and they have that same expectation. They believe in what they're doing and how they're getting it done, and that's even more important than my belief in them. Hannah [Fallanca], as a walk-on, is doing a great job for us on beam and vaulting as a sophomore. Lane Jarred as a freshman could be doing two, three, maybe even four events for us."

    So, with the requisite talent in place for NC State's best gymnastics season ever, what more could the staff need to make a deep run in 2012? According to assistant coach Colleen Johnson, Pack fans' unbridled support means the difference in putting the Wolfpack over the top.

    "Our meets are the kind of thing that if we can get someone to come to one, they'll come back," said Johnson. "I don't think people realize how entertaining a gymnastics meet can be. Our goal, whether it's an intro video, how we run the meet, or how we promote, is to make our meets into a show and a performance.
    It's an entertaining sport that markets itself. We have a group of talented, athletic young women that enjoy competing in an incredibly athletic sport that's very entertaining and unique. This year we're going to work on being specific about themes for meets, and emphasizing that focus to create a better experience. We're trying to get fans in the habit of not only attending the meets and enjoying the team, but also participating themselves."

    One unique aspect of the sport rests in the very nature of gymnastics. While fans at a football game may metaphorically will their team to a victory, crowd reaction plays an actual, tangible part in influencing the judges' scoring, even if those judges shy away from admitting it.

    "Having a good crowd reaction certainly helps with the overall impression of a routine," said Johnson. "It's a really high-pressured sport, and when you're able to put down a routine in front of your team, it's only natural to jump up and down and cheer."

    "The nature of what you see on television in the Olympics is totally different from what you see in college gymnastics," added Stevenson."There it's quiet and reserved, but in college it's screaming, yelling, fans are encouraged to be as noisy as possible. The kids love it, and the more people get there, the more that happens. The administration has helped us with marketing meets and bringing in the public to make that happen, so we're hoping for continued success in that area. We're going to try some things this year that we haven't tried before, to make this as exciting of a year as possible."

    NC State's 2012 slate kicks off January 6 at 7 p.m. as the perennially national-contending Florida Gators visit Reynolds Coliseum for the first of seven home dates on the Pack's schedule, culminating with the NCAA Regional on April 7. Attend one and, Stevenson's willing to bet, you won't miss another.

    By Cavan Fosnes



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