Meet the Challenge. Not only is it the name of the statue representing Utah State Athletics, as well as the backdrop for this year’s Utah State Gymnastics team and class photos, it could also be a theme for Utah State Gymnastics. The Aggies are looking to rebound from the struggles of last season, to not only have a successful season, but make it to NCAA Regionals. “My goals and I think the team’s goals are to make it to regionals as a team. I don’t think that is a far stretch. Utah State has been to the regionals many times, so I think it is an attainable goal,” second-year head coach Jeff Richards said. “Along with that, we just want to do our gymnastics. We need to do what we can and do it the best we can. We don’t need to try to go out there and do too much fancy stuff. We just have to take the skills we can do and make them the cleanest we can possibly do them.” Richards has a year under his belt, and it was a rough year for Richards and the Aggies, who suffered numerous injuries along the way to a 1-19 overall record while getting blanked in Western Athletic Conference action at 0-9, finishing with a No. 47 national ranking. Richards has had a full offseason this year and he as seen improvement amongst his squad. “Last year coming in, the girls were here before I got here, and we were behind a couple of months. They were a little iffy on what to do over their summer break. They didn’t know who the coach was going to be and what to expect,” Richards said. “This year the team has done an incredible job over the summer. They went home and went to their gyms. They stayed in shape and came back ready to go.” Richards and the team improved in all aspects in the offseason in preparation for this year in high hopes of making it to regionals. “We have been able to try to put in a little bit more than last year. I think we did very well last year with what we had. This year, we are trying to put in a few upgrades on a few of the girls. It gives us that little bit of extra that we really need if we are going to do well in conference and make it to regionals. We have to put in these upgrades. Right now they are more physically fit to handle it,” Richards said. Richards and the Aggies have seven letterwinners returning to a roster that features just one senior in Heather Heinrich, one of the injury casualties last year, missing five meets with an illness. USU adds four newcomers, all talented and expected to contribute immediately. In addition to the seven letterwinners, junior Chelsea Marquardt returns after missing last season with an injury. “We have eight returners,” Richards said. “Right now we look way better than we did at this time of the season last year. I think we will do well this season. We look physically better and I think they’re better mentally. We are at a point where the team can go either way. They are adding some difficulty to their bar dismounts and we are adding difficulty to the tumbling as well. It is kind of touch and go as far as what we bring out. If we can make it through this, I think we will have a great season.” Despite the returners, USU will be without the services of sophomore Erica Huelsmann as well as junior Nicole Simoneau for medical reasons. “Last year, Erica Huelsmann did great for us on the floor. We were hoping to get her back on bars and she was doing quite well. With her being out, her floor and beam set will be tough to replace. Of course, Nicole Simoneau had our highest bar average and score and she will be tough to replace,” a disappointed Richards said. Simoneau’s loss means that USU will not have any returning all-WAC gymnasts to competition, as the Aggies’ other all-conference honoree from last season is now on USU’s coaching staff in graduate assistant Nicki Felley. However, Utah State returns two gymnasts who qualified and participated in the NCAA North Central Regionals in junior Lyndsie Boone (all-around) and junior Jackie Dillon (vault), who will combine with Heinrich to provide veteran talent and leadership. Dillon qualified for regionals last year on vault with a 9.692 average, second on the team behind Heinrich’s 9.756. Dillon also had a 9.713 average on bars, which is also second on the team behind Simoneau’s 9.800. Additionally, Dillon had a 9.525 floor average. Marquardt missed last season, but had a 9.750 average on vault as a freshman in 2008, as well as notching averages of 9.660 on bars and 9.588 on beam. Heinrich, who’s illness kept her from being eligible for the NCAA Regionals, led USU with the aforementioned 9.756 vault average, while posting averages of 9.635 on floor, 9.521 on bars and 9.375 on beam, as well as a 38.205 all-around average. Regional all-around qualifier Boone had a 37.985 average in addition to a 9.625 on vault, 9.492 on floor, 9.481 on bars and 9.346 on beam. Heinrich is the lone senior, while Boone and Dillon are the lone juniors, as the Aggies’ roster includes six sophomores and four freshman. “We definitely have a young team. Last year, we had a young team and in showed in us being fairly inconsistent last year. I think that is evident when you have a young team,” Richards said. “Now they have a lot of that competition under their belt and they will be more consistent. I expect them to have a little bit more fight in them. They know what to expect now, they know what is expected of them and they know how to work with it.” Meeting expectations is a bit easier with a complete offseason, something Richards and the Aggies didn’t have last year due to the coaching change. This year is a different story, as several USU gymnasts’ improvements are impressing Richards. “Everyone is showing improvement, but there are a few who will surprise and impress folks with their progress,” Richards said. “I would say Jackie Dillon had an incredible year last year. Then over the offseason and during the preseason period she has gotten even better. She has never competed on beam before and she is looking like she is in our beam lineup right now. She has done well in the offseason and all of her events are looking good. The other surprise is Chelsea Marquardt. She was injured last year, and we weren’t sure how that foot was going to hold up, but she has been doing great this preseason. She is really stepping up.” This year’s Aggie squad will have success by committee, as they will rely on each other to succeed, with not one gymnast in the spotlight, but a team of gymnasts in the spotlight. “I don’t think our team has any wow kids. They all work hard and they are all very talented. We don’t have anybody that really stands out. We will really have to really stick together as a team. Everyone is going to have to be consistent and hit for us to move on. I wouldn’t say there is any one kid that is going to be a stand out and lead the team. I think it is just going to take a conglomerate of all of them,” Richards said. EVENT BREAK DOWN “I believe that beam will be one of our better events this year. I would say bars and beam will be our strongest. After that, it’ll be vault and floor from there. Floor is not usually that way. Right now we have only six kids that we can put up in that,” Richards said. Bars Richards has a long line of talented gymnasts on bars, where he can look toward Heinrich, sophomore Brandie Dickson, Boone, Marquardt or Dillon for veteran experience, leadership and talent. Amelia Montoya and Amanda Watamaniuk are two of the talented freshmen who Richards expects to be in the starting rotation from the get-go. Dickson posted a 9.623 average on bars last season, logging a season-high 9.775 in four different meets. USU logged a 48.365, the highest team average last season and the No. 8 spot in school history. Utah State notched a season-high 48.900 in the dual with Cal State Fullerton, one of six scores of 48.500 or higher for the Aggies. Beam On beam, Richards will turn to Heinrich, Marquardt, sophomore Rebecca Holliday, Montoya and Dillon. Holliday showed steady progress last year until an illness shortened her season, finishing with a 9.525 beam average. Dillon’s offseason improvement means added contribution, along with veteran leadership and talent. As a team, USU posted a 47.296 average on beam, with a season-high of 48.450 in the home dual meet vs. BYU, USU’s lone win of the season. That was one of three times that the Aggies posted higher than a 48.000, something that Richards hopes will improve. Vault Heinrich and Dillon are USU’s leaders on vault, with their respective 9.756 and 9.692 averages. Following them, Richards will look for someone to rise up and contribute. “We are a little weak on that event. We have some work to do there,” Richards said. The Aggies notched a season-average of 47.927 on vault last season, scoring a season-high 48.725 in the dual with Boise State. Floor “We don’t have a lot of depth, but I feel like the kids we are going to put up are good,” Richards said. “We have the one senior in Heather Heinrich, who knows what it is going to take and she knows how to stick her landings. She is going to be strong there, where I think its great to have senior leadership in that event. We’ll also look to Lindsey Boone, she loves to compete and show off her routines. Amelia Montoya will be great on that event as a freshman. Rebecca Holliday has been trying to land some upgrades, and if those pan out she will be a standout on the floor.” Holliday averaged a 9.432 on floor last year, breaking into the lineup in the later part of the season. Her previous appearances were all as an exhibition performer. Last season, USU had a 48.100 average on floor, posting a season-best 48.925 in a dual with No. 1 Utah, tying the Utes on the event. All-Around Richards and the Aggies have more depth in the all-around, as returners Heinrich, Boone, Dillon and Holliday along with newcomer Montoya will see action. “It is definitely good to have more depth in the all-around,” Richards said. “We are definitely stronger in a few events. We have a lot of depth on beam, where I would say we can be nine deep. We are eight or nine deep on bars, which helps and makes us stronger. As far as more all-arounders, that is not necessarily a great thing, but it gives us more depth at every event. It gives us a chance to rest some people here and there and plug in some specialists. It gives those all-arounders a little bit of a rest here and there.” Coaching Staff “We made a few changes in our staff assignments this year. I will oversee all the events and coach vault as my main focus,” Richards said. “I think as a conglomerate our whole staff has that attitude of somehow, some way we need to make it happen. It may not always be 100 perfect, nine times out of ten it won’t be. But you need to figure out how to make it happen. That is what good athletes do.” Richards added Janet Anson to his staff, replacing Dayna Smart-Allen. Anson was a national qualifier gymnast at Iowa State, spending the previous two seasons as a volunteer coach there. Richards also returns Josh Nilson, who is in his second season on the staff but fifth year with the program, serving as a student assistant the previous three seasons. Former Aggie gymnast Nicki Felley will serve as graduate assistant coach, following her four-year career for USU. 2010 UTAH STATE SCHEDULE Utah State’s 2010 schedule consists of 12 meets with five at home. USU, which is entering its fifth season in the Western Athletic Conference, will face each of its five conference foes at least once, as well as each in-state opponent at least once. The Aggies’ ledger opens with three meets on the road, but closes with the final two at home. Utah State will face four teams ranked in the top 20 of last season’s final Troester/Women’s Gymnastics National Poll, in No. 3 Utah, No. 7 UCLA, No. 18 Denver and No. 20 Boise State. The Aggies will also face No. 23 Central Michigan and No. 27 San Jose State. “It will be a pretty good schedule. We’ll face two teams that were ranked in the top 10, in No. 3 Utah and No. 7 UCLA, so those will be some fun meets for us, but will give the girls an idea of what we’re trying to get to. We also face No. 18 Denver at the BYU tri-meet, and then face No. 20 Boise State twice. I think facing those ranked teams will give us really good competition for what we need to do and where we need to be to make it to regionals as a team, and eventually make it to nationals,” Richards said. USU has five home meets this season, something that Richards likes. “Ideally, five is perfect. Six would be great to have, and we’d love to have six home meets in the future, but five is ideal for the regional qualifying score. You’re in front of your crowd and you have them behind you. The team always loves being in front of the home crowd. It helps you and gives you that extra boost,” Richards said. “It’s important to score big both at home and on the road.” The Aggies’ officially open the 2010 season on Friday, Jan. 15 in Mount Pleasant, Mich., taking on Central Michigan. The road trip continues east to Durham, N.H., to face New Hampshire on Sunday, Jan. 17. USU returns to the Beehive State to open WAC action against in-state foe Southern Utah on Friday, Jan. 22. “It’s always fun to travel to away meets and go somewhere new and different; it takes some stress off of having to perform in the early home meet,” Richards said. “I think it’s a little more stressful if you’re in front of your fans in your first meet of the year because you want to look good and have that added pressure right out of the gate to perform strong. Even though we’re away we want to start off strong, you just have a little bit of time to get those nerves out.” The Aggies’ home-opener is Friday, Jan. 29 against defending WAC Champion Boise State. USU will open a stretch of four straight meets against an in-state foe at BYU on Friday, Feb. 5, where the Aggies will be joined by Denver for a triangular meet. On Friday, Feb. 12, Utah State will take on Utah at Salt Lake City, before a quick turnaround between action, hosting Southern Utah on Monday, Feb. 15. That will be USU’s annual “Flip and Stick for a Cure” meet to promote awareness for breast cancer. The team will wear special pink leotards and all fans wearing pink will receive free admission. “That stretch of four meets in a row against in-state teams will be tough, especially the Friday meet at Utah and then turning around and facing Southern Utah at home the following Monday,” Richards said. “That will be a real test for our team to test what kind of athletes we have and where our team is at as well as what kind of depth we have. That will be a real big test for our all-around kids.” BYU visits the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum on Friday, Feb. 19 on “Greek Night,” as USU hosts the university’s fraternities and sororities. The Aggies’ final two road meets of the regular-season will take them to Fullerton, Calif., to face WAC-foe Cal State Fullerton along with UCLA in a tri-meet on Friday, Feb. 26. A week later, USU will be at Boise, Idaho on Friday, March 5 in a dual vs. Boise State. Utah State closes out the regular-season slate with a pair of conference duals, first against San Jose State on Friday, March 12 on “Club Gymnastics Night,” coinciding with the local club meet at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The final home meet of the season is Friday, March 19 against Sacramento State, which will be “Girl Scout and Elementary Student Night,” supporting the local Girl Scout chapter, as well as elementary schools. That will also be USU’s “Senior Night,” as the Aggies recognize their lone senior, Heather Heinrich. “It will be great to close the season with two home meets; its great to have your crowd behind you. If you can be at home for your last two meets before conference, its that much more exciting. If you can perform well, it will really be a catalyst for the conference meet,” Richards said. “Both of those teams, San Jose State and Sacramento State are tough. We will really have to be on our game to beat them. Right now we really don’t have that depth, so it will be tough.” The 2010 WAC Championships will be Saturday, March 27 at Fullerton, Calif., hosted by Cal State Fullerton. If it qualifies, Utah State will compete in the NCAA North Central Regional Championships, hosted by Utah at Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 10. The NCAA National Championships are Thursday-Saturday, April 22-24, at Gainsville, Fla., hosted by Florida. -USU-
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