Jan. 9, 2002
The Maryland Terrapins women's gymnastics team heads into 2002 after a Cinderella season just short of a perfect storybook ending. Now the team is geared up to soar in the EAGL and achieve its fairy tale ending - a berth to compete in the NCAA national championships in Alabama. Head coach Bob Nelligan feels that his 24th Maryland team is capable of regaining the national recognition it has achieved over the course of the past four seasons. Nelligan's main goals for the season are simply stated: to "have a team GPA above a 3.3, win the EAGL Championships, go into regionals in the top-18 and then reach the NCAA Championships."
Seniors All Around
Five of the Terrapins' 14 competitors will compete in their final seasons at Maryland in 2002. All-around All-American co-captain Gillian Cote, NCAA alternate qualifier Lisa Mealey, and Kit Johnson, Alyssa Mealey and Chrissy Samwell comprise a senior class that Nelligan says is "the most important class of his career."
Cote, who made her mark in the Maryland record books as a rookie, is coming off of her second trip to nationals as an all-around competitor, which found her earning All-American status for the first time. Cote finished eighth in session two at nationals with a score of 39.050. An invaluable member of the team, Cote is a key competitor in every event, holding school records on vault (9.9), uneven bars (9.925), balance beam (9.95) and all-around (39.625), and tying for the second-highest floor exercise score (9.975). Assistant coach Wendy Marshall speaks highly of Cote, saying, "Gillian is a leader every day."
Lisa Mealey, who had a phenomenal season in 2000 after adding vaulting and beam to her repertoire, is Maryland's next strongest competitor entering 2002. Lisa finished seventh in the all-around at the NCAA Southeast Regional meet in 2001, earning a position as an alternate NCAA national competitor. She also established new career-highs in every event - a 9.8 on vault, 9.925 on the uneven bars, 9.825 on beam, 9.875 on floor, and 39.375 in the all-around. Mealey's 9.925 on bars ties with Cote for the highest in Maryland history. "She is working hard to be a team leader," said Nelligan.
Johnson is expected to be the Terps' strongest beam competitor and a key vault competitor as well. At the end of her freshman season, Johnson was ranked No. 11 nationally on beam in addition to being an all-conference first team selection for beam and vault. Her career-high 9.925 on beam is tied for the second-highest beam score in school history. At the NCAA Southeast Regional meet in 2001, Johnson earned a career-high 9.850 on vault. "Kit's grace in execution gives her an edge and makes her very pretty to watch," said Nelligan. Johnson may also be a surprise in the all-around this season.
Alyssa Mealey looks to extend her contributions to the team and is increasing her start values on both her vault and bar routines. One of the strongest bar competitors for the Terrapins, Alyssa earned All-EAGL second team recognition for bars in 2000 and 2001. Alyssa is also a strong floor exercise competitor and consistently scored above a 9.75 in the final seven meets of 2001. "Alyssa is working hard to make her senior season her best ever," said Nelligan.
"Chrissy is looking her best ever," said Marshall. After competing for the Terps in 1999 and 2000, Samwell exhibitioned in numerous meets last season and looks to work her way into the floor and bars lineups.
Bring on Bars and Beam
The uneven bars have been a problem area in the past, but with three seniors anchoring the bars lineup, the team looks to be stronger in that event.
Alyssa and Lisa Mealey and Cote have all registered scores in the school's top-15. In addition to the three seniors, sophomores Katherine Schroeder and Rachel Sibert return to the bars lineup with a year of competitive experience under their belts. Schroeder has already worked to increase her bar routine, however, Sibert is slowly working back into her routine after suffering a shoulder strain.
The balance beam should prove to be one of the strongest events for the Terrapins this season. Five competitors will be returning from last year's lineup, including Johnson, Cote, Lisa Mealey, sophomore Sarah Hoenig and junior co-captain Catherine Gardner.
Gardner boasts a career-high 9.9 on beam, which also tied for the 2001 team season-high. Maryland's 2000 rookie of the year, Gardner also earned career-highs on vault (9.775) and on floor (9.675) last season.
Hoenig, who also earned a 9.9 on beam last season, is evolving into a stronger gymnast daily. Last season, Hoenig scored a 9.8 or higher on beam nine times, including three first place finishes. "Sarah is amazing on beam," said Nelligan. "She proves it every day."
Landing on Vault and Floor
Vault is not Maryland's strongest event, but the Terps have key competitors in the event that historically have shown great improvement as the season progresses.
The senior class will anchor the vault lineup as well, with Johnson and Cote returning as the strongest vault competitors from last season. Gardner also turned in top vault scores last year, as did Lisa Mealey. Other Terrapins who may work their way into the vault lineup are Sibert, Schroeder, and Alyssa Mealey.
The floor exercise is likely to be Maryland's top event once again. Despite the loss of All-American Jill Fisher, the Terps have tumbling talent on reserve that should more than compensate for losing Fisher. Five of the six floor competitors are returning, and every member of the team has a floor routine that shows continuous improvement.
Standing out in the floor competition are Cote, Lisa Mealey and Schroeder. Nelligan looks to Schroeder to lead the Terps and she hopes to top her career-high of 9.825. Marshall said, "Her floor routine is so much fun to watch in practice. I can't wait until she gets a chance to show it."
Junior Stacey Celenski is expected to turn heads on floor as well. Returning to competition after suffering an ACL injury during practice last fall, Celenski is working hard to land a spot in the floor lineup. Celenksi may also appear in the Terps' vault lineup.
Maryland's 2002 freshman class is one of the strongest to enter the program. Leah Brill and Mandy Pascual are strong competitors in every event and are likely to be strong all-around competitors by the end of the season.
Brill is a four-time Junior Olympic National competitor who qualified for elite status. In 2000, she place 11th in the all-around at the Junior Olympic Nationals. Pascual competed at Level 10 in high school and was the Hawaiian region 2 bars, beam, floor and all-around champion. "Leah (Brill) and Mandy (Pascaul) are two strong all-arounders I believe will be vital to our team," said Nelligan.
The major difference between this team and teams of years past, according to Nelligan, is that they see themselves as one of the top-12 teams in the country. While the EAGL is a very competitive conference, and Region 6 has some of the best teams in the nation, Nelligan and his 2002 Terps are not letting the opposition intimidate them. "I enjoy top-notch competition," said Nelligan. "It's really more about ourselves and our performances. If we do our jobs well we can compete with anybody."