November 16, 2001

The Young & the Restless

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With eight weeks to go before competition begins, most coaches are unsure about where the current crop of players ranks in the grand scheme of their school’s history. When asked to enumerate specific goals beyond the comfortable answers of ‘trying our best’ or ‘improving,’ most of them are at a loss of words.

Cornell gymnastics coach Paul Beckwith is not one of those coaches. “I don’t want to jinx anything, but [this is] the best team we’ve ever had,” he said.

High praise indeed, but probably warranted given the squad the Red has on its roster this year. Take the banner freshmen class of eight people, add to a team returning Rachel Goldberg and Shannon Weiman — two of the team’s three All-Americans from last year, and one can understand the unbridled optimism of the team’s head coach.

Nonetheless, much time still remains before the Red opens its season on January 12 against the University of Pennsylvania. The Red has only beaten the Quakers once in the last twenty-five years, but the overall strength of this year’s squad makes this a much-anticipated opening to the season.

“We’re totally psyched,” Beckwith noted. “We really want to beat Penn.”

In the meantime, the team has been practicing up to three hours every day and will have its first practice meet on Friday, December 16 from 4-7 p.m. at Teagle Hall. Despite all of the preparation, however, Beckwith admits that his top priority for the team is avoiding potentially catastrophic injuries.

“Unfortunately, it’s the nature of our sport for injuries to be a real problem,” he points out. “It’s really hard on the body and at this point, ankles, knees and backs need to be watched carefully.”

Goals for the season ahead are many and varied. Unlike, other sports, there is no formal Ivy League championship meet.

This is because the league requires five of its eight schools to field squads for such an event to occur, and with only Cornell, Yale, Penn and Brown boasting teams, gymnastics is one short of that requirement. Like every sport on campus, though, Ivy League rivalries are held at the highest level of importance, and Beckwith insists that the unofficial nature of the contests will not detract from his team’s desire to win.

Cornell would also like to move up in the ECAC standings. Last year was a pretty successful year in that regard, as the team finished fifth after being seeded eighth. But the high caliber of this year’s team makes improvement upon that finish a desirable and reachable goal.

The unprecedented influx of young talent into the Cornell gymnastics team has had the effect of strengthening other players as well. “A lot of our players moved down in the rankings on the team,” noted Beckwith. “That’s good, because it’s great incentive for everyone to work harder and pick up some new skills.”

Of course, the team’s drastic improvement does have some minor drawbacks. With the rigorous practices and difficulty remaining healthy, a few players have left the team after deciding that this kind of tremendous sacrifice would likely not have resulted in competing in many events. In that respect, the squad is almost too deep. However, as one talks with Beckwith and thinks about the almost limitless prospects for the coming season, it seems clear that having almost too much talent is a good problem to have.

Archived article by Andrew Bernie