March 15, 2011
DAVIS, Calif. -
Coming off a season-best 194.150 at Sacramento State and sporting a conference-leading 193.030 regional-qualifying score, UC Davis women's gymnastics looks to defend its team title at Saturday's Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy.
After counting a fall on balance beam in the opening rotation, the Aggies responded with a 48.700 on floor followed by a school-record 48.925 on vault. The bars squad finished the meet with a 48.875, its second-highest score of the year. Seniors Marcy Miller and Stacey Nicolini each hit career highs in the all-around, with Miller becoming the sixth gymnast in school history to hit the 39-point plateau.
"We had a really good meet," said UC Davis head coach John Lavallee. "We counted a fall on beam but if we can put up a similar performance on Saturday, I feel pretty confident about where we will finish. They did a very good job focusing in on what we need to do."
Sunday's triangular at the Hornets' Nest took place on the eve of the university's final examinations, which presents its own challenges in UC Davis' preparation for the conference championship meet. According to Lavallee, the exam schedule prevents his team from practicing as a full team throughout the week, while the academic rigors splits his student-athletes collective focus.
"It's crazy. We don't have an opportunity to be together as a team and work on those team things," said the three-time MPSF Coach of the Year. "We have to get through finals and get wrapped together as a group, basically in 12 hours. You have to compartmentalize: when you're studying, you're leaving out the gymnastics part of your life. Then when you walk into the gym, you have to drop the academic side of your life."
Despite these obstacles, Lavallee has sound reason for his confidence - and cause to keep his team focused. On the one hand, the Aggies have led the MPSF wire to wire, averaging 193.588 in his last four meets and holding a 5-0 record head-to-head against his conference rivals during the dual season. However, host Air Force nailed a season-high 193.300 in Monday's home dual with Denver. Alaska Anchorage has also hit peak performance in recent weeks, posting scores of 191.475 and 192.250 in back-to-back home duals with Centenary over the weekend. And Seattle Pacific looks to hold off Penn in its fight to capture the eighth slot toward the USAG Collegiate Nationals (a subdivision of college gymnastics for limited-scholarship programs).
For that matter, Lavallee's gymnasts have considerations for postseason competition on the line. Miller's all-around RQS of 38.775 is the highest by an MPSF gymnast since the league became a four-team affiliation after the 2004 season. She has essentially clinched an at-large berth at the NCAA Regional at Oregon State. Freshman Anna Shumaker
is the front-runner for the regional on vault with her RQS of 9.780. Junior Erika Van Dyke
looks to protect her 0.025 lead over Sacramento State's Lissa Zamolo for the beam slot. Sophomore Michelle Ho
and Hornet Kailey Hansen are deadlocked at 9.825 for the floor at-large berth.
However, Lavallee sees his team's regional representation as secondary to the conference championship, especially since much of it depends on the scores of other schools and individuals around the West.
"The bottom line is that what we do in competitions is all we can control," said Lavallee. "What takes place outside of that, yeah, we take a look at it. But the reality is that we have to go and hit 24 routines on Saturday. That's all we can do and that's what we focus on. The bottom line comes down to what 24 routines will score the most points for that day with the personnel we have available."
Like the other teams in the MPSF, UC Davis has hit its stride down the final stretch leading into the conference meet. Besides Sunday's all-around scores from Miller and Nicolini, senior Michele Hurlock tied her career high on vault with a 9.725, then chased it with a solid 9.700 on bars. Ho sat out on floor to rest an injury but delivered a career-best 9.800 on bars. Freshman Madeline Kennedy hit a career-high 9.725 on vault after making her collegiate debut on floor with a 9.650. Another freshman, Ida Shaffer, has recorded 9.825 and 9.725 on floor in the past two weeks. Senior Jessica Rea has scored 9.800 or better on bars in three of the past five meets, sticking a 9.825 in Sunday's meet at Sac State.
A key ingredient down the stretch has been the return of sophomore Katie Yamamura. After winning four All-MPSF honors as a freshman and becoming the first Aggie rookie to break the 39-point barrier in the all-around, Yamamura was sidelined by a injury for the entire month of February. She led UC Davis on both vault (9.850) and beam (9.725) in Sunday's triangular.
The Aggies have twice won the MPSF team title, first with a school-record 194.700 in 2008 then again with a 194.150 at last year's meet. In fact, three of UC Davis' all-time top 10 scores have taken place in the conference meet. In 2004, the Aggies shattered their previous benchmark with a 194.350. The score still ranks fourth in school history.
Saturday's meet at Cadet West Gym kicks off at 6 p.m. Mountain time, 5 p.m. PDT.