After winning an Ivy League title and placing fourth at ECACs, the gymnastics team will look to continue its successful season as it hosts the USAG collegiate national championships, held over the next three days.
“We have had a really good season,” said head coach Paul Beckwith. “This will give our girls a chance to compete in a really big meet at home.”
With qualifying rounds beginning today, Cornell will welcome some of the top lower funded teams in the country to Newman Arena in one of collegiate gymnastics top competitions. Because the NCAA refuses to recognize divisions in gymnastics, the USAGs welcome the top-8 schools from around the country that offer eight or fewer gymnastics scholarships – Cornell, as per Ivy League rules, does not give any athletic scholarships.
Cornell has never finished better than fifth at the USAGs and will look to improve upon its performance from years past.
“If we do our best and perform error free,” Beckwith said. “We can definitely make the top-4.”
The best four teams from today’s preliminaries will compete tomorrow in the team finals. After posting the highest season average of all the invitees, Texas Women’s University comes into the competition as the team to beat. Although the favorites, the Pioneers are not in a class of their own – as Beckwith feels any of the teams are capable of winning it all.
“Between first and last could be just a couple of points,” Beckwith said. “The season averages for all the teams are really not that different.”
Cornell hopes the home atmosphere will give it the edge it needs to overcome the visiting squads.
“It is really nice to have the support of family and friends that comes with hosting such a big event,” said junior Christina Baez, who will compete in the balance beam competition.
Cornell will not be in its usual stomping ground, as the meet will make use of the more spacious Newman Arena as opposed to Teagle, where the Red hosted two dual meets and two larger competitions during the season. The additional space will be needed to accommodate the addition of pieces of equipment specific to men’s gymnastics, as Cornell will also house the men’s USAG nationals this weekend. Hosting such a significant coed event represents an unprecedented gymnastics spectacle for the upstate New York area.
“It will be the best gymnastics Ithaca has ever seen,” Beckwith said. “I’m glad we can bring something impressive to a small town.”
Contrary to most people’s perception of gymnastics, Cornell’s main priority will be team success this weekend, as strong performances in the individual events will only aid the Red’s chances of bettering its overall team finish.
“People say that gymnastics is more an individual sport because you are the only one on the event when you are competing,” Baez said. “But people don’t understand that you are not up there for yourself. Your performance is for the team, and when you don’t do well, it’s not a personal loss, it’s a feeling that you have let your team down.”
With team goals in mind, a pair of ECAC champions will be called upon to lead the Red in their respective events, with junior Colleen Davis competing in the vault and sophomore Megan Gilbert performing on the beam. Beckwith will also look for junior Randi Bisbano and senior Cathy Schnell to earn valuable points for the team.
The success of individuals will ultimately determine the team outcome, which makes high scores in each event the goal of all the Red’s gymnasts. After the team competition has culminated, the top-6 individuals from today’s qualifying rounds will earn the right to compete Saturday in the individual finals, where participants earn the chance to be named All-Americans.
“We have never had an individual champion,” Beckwith said. “We will put our best six out there at each event and it will be all about their performance.”
In a season marked with individual awards and team success, this weekend will mark the Red’s final trip to the mat of the 2006 season, and Cornell hopes to carry the momentum that it has been building since January.
“This is our last competition,” Baez said. “The only thing left to do is go all out.”
Archived article by Patrick Blakemore
Sun Staff Writer