UC Davis Hosts MPSF Gymnastics Meet Friday

March 25, 2008

DAVIS, Calif. - Riding high after scoring the second-best team total in program history, the UC Davis women's gymnastics team closes out the 2008 regular season by hosting the four-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships on Friday at the Pavilion.

The Aggies lead the conference with a regional-qualifying score of 191.520, not counting Sunday's 194.275 in a quadrangular with Stanford, Sacramento State and San Jose State. Alaska Anchorage is second with an RQS of 190.435, followed by Air Force (189.280) and two-time defending champion Seattle Pacific (188.420). The RQS is a calculation based on the team's six best regular-season scores, of which a minimum of three must come from road meets. The highest score of the six is eliminated and the remaining five are averaged to determine the RQS.

Sunday's performance was precisely the outcome that UC Davis head coach John Lavallee had anticipated for his team all season. The Aggies went 24-for-24 in the meet, scoring 48-plus in all four events, including a season-high 48.825 on uneven bars. The team total, second in history only to the 194.350 set at the 2004 MPSF meet, was a third of a point behind heavily favored Sacramento State (194.600), and ahead of San Jose State's 193.900. The win over the Spartans is the program's first since 2005, when the Aggies edged SJSU by a 193.225-193.000 edge in a home triangular.

"Sunday was an incredible leap forward for this program," said Lavallee. "According to my seniors, this is the first time since they were freshmen that the team went 24-for-24. That has been our goal all year and it is a huge accomplishment, particularly for a team that isn't used to doing it. I really feel we got the monkey off our back and I'm very excited about where we're at, physically, mentally and emotionally. I think this was a real shot in the arm for the team and the coaching staff going into the conference championship."



UC Davis looks to earn its first-ever MPSF title since the conference began a gymnastics championship in 2002. Sacramento State won titles in 2002, 2003 and 2005, while San Jose State broke the string with a league banner in 2004. Both teams left for the Western Athletic Conference starting the 2006 season, when Seattle Pacific edged the Aggies for the title. Last season, the Falcons followed up a school-record night with a 193.050 in the MPSF meet, edging UC Davis' 192.825 total.

In 2008, the Aggies have led the conference since the opening weekend and has sported a perfect 7-0 dual record against MPSF members. Still, neither Lavallee nor his team will take the opposition lightly.

"The bottom line in gymnastics is that it all comes down to performance. This will be a very close meet this weekend," Lavallee said. "Air Force just went 191.625. Seattle scored 192.200 over the weekend. Alaska has been right around the 190-191 mark for a couple of weeks. I think there we'll see four teams that are very well-prepared to do a great job on Friday night. The team that performs the best will be the team that walks away with the trophy."

At first glance, Alaska Anchorage would seem to be the Aggies' closest contender for the league title. The Seawolves rank second in the MPSF with that 190.435 RQS, and have come the closest to outscoring the meet host this season. On January 27, UAA scored a 189.550, a mere half-point behind UC Davis. Senior and 2006 MPSF Gymnast of the Year Jessica Portlock is in position to earn All-MPSF honors in three events, posting a 9.750 RQS on vault to break up the Aggies' stronghold in the event. The Seawolves scored a season-high 191.625 at Sacramento State earlier in March, then eclipsed that total with a 191.675 in the first of two home dual wins over Air Force.

Not to be overlooked is defending champ Seattle Pacific, which went through a relatively slow start to the 2008 season after graduating standouts Debra Huss and Sarah Sullivan, scoring just 183.875 in its season opener at the Pavilion. The Falcons never managed higher than a 188.350 in January or February, then broke the 190-point barrier in a triangular at Sacramento State on March 7. However, in similar fashion to its 2007 finish, SPU enters the MPSF meet in peak form, coming off a season-high 192.200 in a dual with Washington. Freshman Anissa Madrid won the all-around at 38.825, edging the Huskies' Haley Bogart, who scored 38.800. Madrid leads the conference on balance beam with a 9.670 while another freshman, Brianna Steigauf, looks to claim All-MPSF honors with her 9.725 RQS on floor.

Lida Gehlen looks to defend her MPSF uneven bars title and earn a berth to the NCAA West Regional.
(Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)

Air Force is arguably the most improved team in the MPSF during the past three seasons after placing a distant fourth at the conference meet in 2006 and 2007. The Falcons scored a season-high 189.550 at Alaska Anchorage on March 14, then broke the 190-point barrier with a 190.975 at UAA two nights later. Then on Monday, Air Force improved to a season-high 191.625 in a home dual with Denver. Junior Abbey Rogers ranks as the conference's top all-arounder with a 38.165, helped by a career-best 38.825 that earned her MPSF Gymnast of the Week honors on March 17. She also leads the league on floor exercise at 9.810, slightly ahead of the UC Davis senior Michelle Kulovitz.

In addition to redeeming themselves from last year's runner-up finish, the Aggies also look to advance individual performers to the NCAA West Regional at Oregon. Entering Friday, sophomore Lida Gehlen stands as the top individual qualifier for the region meet, ranking 14th in the West on uneven bars with a 9.825 RQS. (Besides fielding six teams, each regional invites the top five all-arounders who are not on one of the qualifying teams, plus one event specialist who is not among the all-around qualifiers nor is on a participating team.)

For several weeks, sophomore Tanya Ho has been in position to grab one of the five at-large all-around spots. Now, with a career-high 38.825 on Sunday, Kulovitz has moved into the region rankings with a 37.815 RQS, slightly behind Ho's 37.940. Furthermore, freshman Stacey Nicolini scored a 38.625 in the home quadrangular, erasing a 36.550 mark from early February from her average and lifting her RQS to a 37.730. If Sacramento State and San Jose State can score high enough in the upcoming WAC Championships to maintain their team qualifications, then all three Aggies remain in the hunt for a regional berth in the all-around.

However, the NCAA West Regional does not take place until April 12, and much of that picture depends on other teams. For now, the highest priority for Lavallee and his 2008 Aggies is the MPSF title.

"Last year we had five falls and three kids go out-of-bounds on floor," said Lavallee. "Winning the meet was totally within our control. I think that's the biggest thing the team has learned, that winning the conference is within our control. If we can go out and perform like we did on Sunday, all those things will melt away and we'll be where we want to be."

Friday's meet begins at 6 p.m. at the Pavilion.

UC Davis' Gehlen and Ho are the lone returning individual champions from the 2007 meet... Gehlen scored a 9.825 to win uneven bars while Ho's 9.825 on vault tied for the title with SPU's Kristin Bryant... UC Davis claimed seven of the 10 MPSF Gymnast of the Week awards during the year... Ho won it three times, Gehlen, Kulovitz, Nicolini and sophomore Michelle Bobonski once each... Non-UC Davis winners were Air Force's Rogers (Jan. 21 and Mar. 17) and UAA's Portlock (Feb. 4)... Al Beaird, the conference's executive director, will also announce the All-MPSF teams at the conclusion of Friday's meet... The criteria has changed effective 2008: the top gymnast on each team (based on RQS) for each event, plus the next four gymnasts regardless of team, will earn all-conference honors... In previous years, All-MPSF first-team nods went to the each of the team's top competitors in an event, then second-team honors were bestowed upon each team's second-best RQS holders... Air Force hosted the inaugural MPSF Championships in 2002... Sacramento State edged the host Falcons that year, with San Jose State, UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara rounding out the field... Before the MPSF began sponsoring the sport, the meet took the form of the Western Independent Championships.