Gymnastics Prepares For A Battle In 'Bama

April 8, 2003

NCAA Regional Championship Notes
Updated Gymnast Bios

The Michigan State gymnastics team will travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, April 12, to compete at the 2003 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Central Regional Championships. The Spartans will face No. 5 Alabama, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 17 Auburn, No. 21 Kent State and No. 25 Central Michigan for the opportunity to advance to the national championships. The six-team event is scheduled to take place at 6 p.m., in the Coleman Coliseum on the campus of the University of Alabama. Live scoring updates can be found on Alabama's website:

Not only are all five of the Spartans' opponents ranked among the nation's Top-25, but the five programs combine for a formidable resume. There is one defending national champion, two conference champions, a pair of conference runner-ups and two teams led by the Coach of the Year in their respective conferences.

Leading the way is defending national champion Alabama, who most recently won the Southeastern Conference Championship last weekend. Central Michigan is the champion of the Mid-American Conference, winning both the regular-season and tournament championships. Oklahoma was the runner-up in the Big 12 Championships and Kent State finished second at the MAC Championships.

--- ALABAMA:The defending national champions have averaged scores of over 197 points this season and are currently ranked fifth in the nation with an RQS of 197.345. Coached by Sarah and David Patterson, the Crimson Tide won the SEC Championship two weeks ago. Junior Jeana Rice is ranked second, nationally, in the all-around and was named the Southeastern Conference's Gymnast of the Year.

--- OKLAHOMA: Oklahoma tallied a score of over 197 points for the fifth straight meet to finish second at the Big 12 Championships. The Sooners are coached by Steven Nunno and led by sophomore Erin LaBarr, who is the Big 12 Conference's uneven bars champion, after posting a 9.950 on the event. Oklahoma is only the second team in the country to defeat top-ranked UCLA this season and the first in four years to do it at the Bruins' Pauley Pavilion.

--- AUBURN: The Tigers are making their first trip to the NCAA Regional Championships since 1999 after finishing fifth at the Southeastern Conference championships. Auburn is ranked No. 17 in the polls, holding an RQS of 196.350. They are coached by the 2003 SEC Coach of the Year, Jeff Thompson. The Tigers top competitor is sophomore Courtney Puckett, who finished second at the SEC Championships with a school record 39.500.

--- KENT STATE: The Golden Flashes finished second at the Mid-American Conference Championships, finishing with a 196.125. Head coach Brice Biggin was named the conference's Coach of the Year and sophomore April Zentko won the balance beam at the league championships last weekend, posting a 9.875. KSU holds a 10-10 record on the season, finishing as the runner-up in the Mid-American Conference's regular season with a 5-1 mark.

--- CENTRAL MICHIGAN: Central Michigan is the champion of the Mid-American Conference, winning the conference championships two weeks ago and sweeping through the league's regular season with a perfect 6-0 record. Coached by Jerry Reighard, the Chippewas are 27-5 on the season. CMU set a new conference total score with a 197.425 at the championships, while sophomore Kara Reighard posted a new MAC record of 39.625 to win the all-around.

Michigan State will be facing two familiar opponents at the NCAA Regional Championships on April 12. The Spartans split a pair of regular season meets with Central Michigan (Won 195.075-194.900 on Feb. 2, Lost 195.750-195.850 on March 1), after dropping a season-opening meet to Auburn (195.350-191.800).

In addition to the six competing schools, nine individual gymnasts will be competing at the regional championships. Five all-around competitors and four event specialists will vie for the chance to advance to the national championships, representing Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, Ball State, Bowling Green and Kentucky,

Michigan State placed two gymnasts on the All-Big Ten Conference teams, which were announced on March 28. Freshman Sarah Alexander was named to the first team in a vote by conference coaches, while sophomore Lauren Simpson was named to the second-team. It is the first time that the conference coaches have chosen the all-conference selections - in previous years the all-Big Ten teams have been comprised of event winners from the Big Ten Championships.

Eight Spartans were named to the Academic All-Big Ten team. Seniors Ilene Cohen, Julie Devaty and Kristina Petersen, junior Lindsey Voth and sophomores Anna Hunsinger, Kristin Merritt, Lauren Simpson and Jennifer Yarbrough all posted cumulative grade-point-averages of a 3.00 or higher. Simpson and Cohen post the highest averages, as Simpson holds a GPA of 3.89 in zoology and Cohen maintains a 3.87 in human biology.

The eight Spartans named to the Academic All-Big Ten team represents two-thirds of the squad and is the second most of any gymnastics team in the league. That number is also tied with the women's swimming and diving team as the largest amount of student-athlete representatives from a women's team during the winter semester at Michigan State. It is the campus' second highest total, overall, just behind the men's swimming and diving team (nine).

The Spartans finished seventh at the Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill., on March 29, with a team score of 193.425. Sarah Alexander led the Spartans, tying for fourth on the floor exercise with a score of 9.900 - the third best score of the night on that event. As a team, the floor exercise was the Spartans' best event. MSU garnered a 49.125 to finish fourth. In her final Big Ten Championship competition, Julie Devaty posted the fifth-best score of the night on the floor with a 9.825.

In her first appearance of the season as a member of the floor exercise competitive lineup, sophomore Jennifer Yarbrough made a statement at the Big Ten Championships. Yarbrough set a career best score of 9.800 on the event, just nudging her previous best score of 9.775.

March 22 marked the last time that eight members of the Spartans' gymnastics team would take to the competition floor at Jenison Field House. Ilene Cohen, Diana Crea, Julie Devaty, Christy Linder, Kristina Petersen and Maurella Walls, along with student coach Lindsay Trainham were honored after the meet for all of their hard work and dedication to the MSU gymnastics program over the past four years.

You have to play the best. That is the motto head coach Kathie Klages used when determining the Spartans' schedule for the 2003 season. Eleven teams that MSU have faced this season or will face at the NCAA Regional Championships are ranked among the nation's elite, according to March 31 edition of the GymInfo Top 25.

The top two teams from each of the six participating regional competitions will receive an automatic berth to the 2003 NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championship, April 24-26, in Lincoln, Neb. Also, the top two all-around performers and the top event specialist (not on an advancing team) will advance to the national championships.