November 22, 2010

Gymnastics Team Looks to Continue Tradition

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For the Cornell gymnastics team, there’s something to be said about continuing tradition.

After all, the Red’s current senior members enter the 2010-11 season with a chance to become the only class in program history to boast of four consecutive Ivy Classic championships.

“No one on this team knows anything but winning Ivies right now,” said head coach Paul Beckwith. “We’ve done it the last three years, so we’re in that mode: we’re the ones to beat.”

Besides looking to capture an unprecedented fourth straight Ivy Classic title, Cornell will also seek to improve on its third-place showing at Nationals last season after tying Bridgeport for the top spot in 2009.

Referring to last year’s USAG championship run, senior tri-captain Maddie Pearsall mentioned “For us it was good because we had a very good meet. We competed, we were solid, so we weren’t disappointed in that at all. … A little lower finish than the year before [2009], but we were still at Finals, and we had the meet that we wanted to have. Of course this year we’re excited to go in again and see if we can do better.”

Beckwith put the Red’s recent success at Nationals into perspective, explaining that Cornell is the only non-scholarship team that has ever made Finals, “so we’re always going against people that seem to have an advantage.”

However, at the same time, “We try not to focus on [that] fact and just be competitive, because we’re good enough that we can compete against scholarship teams and hold our own,” Pearsall added. “[We] work with what we have, and we’re still competitive.”

Both Beckwith and Pearsall spoke to the importance of taking care of Ivies before shifting their attention to the ECAC championships and ensuing postseason matchups.

Among Cornell’s biggest competition for the ECAC crown will be rival Towson, which has claimed the title the last six years. The Red finished second to the Tigers in 2009 — good for Cornell’s best-ever finish at ECACs — before taking fourth last season.

“A big goal for us this season is to win ECACs, and … when we think that, we always think ‘beat Towson,’ because that’s the first team that comes to mind,” Pearsall said.

Pearsall, who enters her second stint as a team captain and owns the school’s third-highest all-around score, mentioned that the Red is also always excited to compete against Bridgeport, due to both squads’ history of having shared the 2009 USAG national championship.

Preparation for the upcoming winter campaign is already well underway, with Cornell hosting its annual inter-squad Red-White meet over the weekend, which Pearsall described as a “nice reality check, because right now we’re looking at a month and a half until the season actually starts.”

Unlike sports such as football and basketball that prevent teams from working with their coaches until a specified date, due to the NCAA’s safety exception, Beckwith is allowed to be in the same room with his team and train throughout the school year, which makes for a “very long offseason.”

“We’re really just trying to build up to January, but the focus throughout all of Fall is first, getting everyone back in shape … and a lot of focus on endurance. … Once the endurance is there we’ll start working on perfecting everything,” Pearsall said.

This season, Pearsall will share tri-captain duties with fellow seniors Kerri Lavallee and Danielle Scott.

As Beckwith explained, the captains were selected following a team-wide election and — for the first time in his 17 years at the helm of the Red — the chosen three are all seniors.

“They vote, we collect the ballots, and there was just a three-way tie across the board; it was obvious who everyone wanted,” Beckwith said.

“We work very well together and we complement each other very well in our various leadership styles, but what it comes down to is just really relating to the girls on a level that the coaches can’t, and making sure things get done,” Pearsall said. “Once the season starts our job is really to get people excited. We put in all the training, but now we need to make sure everyone is focused and has their goals in mind and … we’re all on the same page for what we want.”

In addition to the tri-captains, Cornell boasts five other seniors including Jennifer Arougheti, Sun Design Editor Irene Leung, Gabriella Sanguineti, Kim O’Donnell, and last year’s USAG national champion on vault, Emily Santoro.

Much like last year’s upperclassman-laden squad that graduated seven seniors in May, the 2010-11 Red will once again rely on veteran leadership.

“It’s hard when you come into college as a freshman — it’s a much different game than high school,” Pearsall explained. “So it’s nice to have so many people on the team who have been here for a few years and know the drill. … There’s so many of us that, whether or not they’re a captain … there’s a lot of very strong leaders within the senior class.”

Overall, Cornell features a lot of depth across the board, with everyone on the team competing for the top six spots in each event’s rotation.

Pearsall, who used to be the team’s only All-Arounder before an injury forced her to stop doing beam, is currently the only senior who competes in three events — vault, floor and bar.

However, she mentioned that there might be another underclassman looking to do three events, in addition to a freshman.

As per tradition, Cornell will kick off its season at the George Washington Invitational on Jan. 16. In addition to the host university, the meet will also feature big-name schools the likes of UNC-Chapel Hill.

And, as per tradition, it would not be unprecedented to see members of the Red standing alongside — or even above — those athletic powerhouses on the podium.

Original Author: Alex Kuczynski-Brown