Dec. 14, 2005
Season Preview -
Michigan State heads into the 2006 season with new faces, new attitudes and new skills, but with the same expectations and team goals that have become synonymous with the MSU gymnastics program. Last season the Spartans struggled with injuries and failed to qualify for regional competition for the first time since 2001.
Still, Michigan State managed a 17-11-0 dual-meet record and finished fourth at the 2005 Big Ten Championship in Iowa City. Five gymnasts return from the 2005 team, namely third-year captain Sarah Alexander, junior all-arounder Kristen Coleman and Chayla Hill, the only Spartan to individually qualify for the NCAA Regionals last season. Also returning for Michigan State are junior Victoria Iakounina and sophomore Bethany Little.
The Spartans welcome six newcomers into the fold for the 2006 season, including sophomores Rhiannon Banda-Scott, a Central Michigan transfer, and walk-on Megan McNally. Freshmen Briana Dicus and Katlyn Roggensack are dynamic, potential all-arounders, while classmate Jenna Russell brings a wealth of national experience to the team. Dani Fanning will graduate high school in December 2005 and is expected to bring skill and depth to the team just in time for the start of the 2006 season.
Despite small numbers, just 11 athletes compared to 19 a season ago, the 2006 MSU gymnastics team has the potential to be one of the best ever.
"We're small," said Head Coach Kathie Klages, "but we'll also be very powerful. We feel that we're capable of competing for a Big Ten Championship and qualifying for nationals."
Spartan Offseason Training -
After battling through injuries the past few seasons, the Michigan State gymnastics program has re-dedicated itself to a year-round training regiment. The goal of the program is two-fold, to bring the gymnasts back to campus better prepared and in better shape for the upcoming season and to increase fitness levels, thus preventing injuries during the season.
"We sat down as a group and decided to step up our training," Klages said. "The entire team wants to take this program to the next level, and it is evident in their dedication."
The program, developed by the Spartan coaching staff in accordance with the thoughts and suggestions of the student-athletes, team physicians and administrators, will combine year-round gymnastics training with a strict conditioning program dedicated to placing Michigan State gymnasts in the best position for success.
"We are already further ahead at this point than in any other season," said Klages. "Now we are able to work on the minute details of the sport, rather than battling injuries or working our way into shape."
Recent recruiting efforts have turned a historically weak event into a strength for Michigan State. Eight of 11 Spartan gymnasts perform Vaults with 10.0 start values, providing plenty of depth and options for the coaching staff.
"This should be one of the strongest vaulting teams Michigan State has ever had," assistant coach Samuel B. Buchalter said. "We expect to be very good."
One reason for optimism is the return of senior Alexander, who was unable to fully contribute on Vault last season due to a shoulder injury. As one of the team's top all-around performers during her first two seasons in East Lansing, Alexander averaged a 9.735 on the event as a sophomore.
Juniors Coleman and Hill also return from last season's Vault lineup. Coleman has significantly upgraded her vaulting difficulty over the summer, while Hill competed individually on Vault at the 2005 NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., placing 25th with a score of 9.650.
Also a junior, Iakounina has been a regular contributor in this event for the Spartans, registering a career-high 9.925 on Mar. 5, 2004, at Oregon State.
Sophomore Bethany Little, who was limited by a back injury last season, is expected to be a major contributor to the Spartans in this event during the 2006 season. Little possesses one of the more difficult and powerful Vaults in the Michigan State lineup.
Rhiannon Banda-Scott vaulted regularly at Central Michigan last season and is expected to do the same for MSU. Freshmen Briana Dicus and Katlyn Roggensack enter the program with high-level vaulting skills and are expected to make an immediate impact.
Uneven Bars -
Despite scoring better on Bars than any other apparatus over the course of the 2005 season, the Spartans made the event a priority during off-season training. Michigan State has the talent to put up big scores on Bars again this season, but still needs to work on developing depth in its rotation.
"We were very clean last season on Bars," said Buchalter. "This year we've added more difficulty and have the potential to be very strong, but we have to stay healthy. If we do, we could put up some great scores."
Injuries kept Alexander out of the Bars rotation last season, but this year the senior will return to anchor the lineup. In 2003, prior to injuring her shoulder, Alexander competed on bars in every meet for the Spartans. She averaged a 9.823 during her sophomore year and posted a career high 9.875 on two occasions.
Coleman has been a regular on Bars since arriving in East Lansing, in the fall of 2004. This season the junior will add a double-layout, full-out dismount to her repertoire, a skill no other Michigan State gymnast has ever performed.
Classmate Victoria Iakounina is expected to take a huge step forward on this apparatus with the addition of a Khorkina release move. Iakounina has been a steady presence on Bars for the Spartans the past two seasons.
Sophomores Bethany Little and Rhiannon Banda-Scott are clean and powerful Uneven Bar performers, while incoming freshman Dani Fanning brings a high-level of athleticism and explosiveness to the rotation.
Freshman Briana Dicus brings a unique style to the event for Michigan State, along with high level skills and a graceful demeanor. Fellow first-year Katlyn Roggensack is already performing E-level skills on Bars with a maturity that defies her youth.
Balance Beam -
Michigan State returns a strong upperclass-core on Balance Beam, one that the coaching staff feels exhibits the right combination of high-level skills, concentration and confidence.
"Our depth on Beam is very good," said Assistant Coach Katie Teft. "We've upgraded numerous triple- flight series and the trust is there, despite the difficulty."
Alexander and Iakounina were regular performers on Beam for the Green and White and each has increased the difficulty of their flight series in 2006.
After injuries kept her out of the lineup last season, Hill re-joins the Beam lineup as a junior. She brings a tremendous skill set to the event and should be a major contributor from day one. Coleman competed on beam in eight events last season, scoring a season high 9.800 against Big Ten Rival Ohio State on Jan. 22.
Dicus, Roggensack, Fanning, Banda-Scott, Russell and McNally will also compete for a place in the beam rotation. Dicus brings a rare combination of power and grace to the position, while Roggensack is capable of performing just about any jump, leap or tumbling sequence. Banda-Scott and Russell are beautiful performers with a great deal of experience at the club level, while McNally has made dramatic Beam improvements in the off-season. Fanning is a consistent Beam performer and will vie for a spot in the line up immediately.
Floor Exercise -
Floor has always been a strength of Spartan gymnastics and this year should be no different. Michigan State has upgraded tumbling runs throughout the lineup, without sacrificing the necessary dance elements of the event.
"We try to add a theatrical element to our floor exercise," Klages said. "Not only do we have athletes with high level skills, but we also teach them to perform for the judges and the crowd."
Alexander has upgraded all three of her tumbling runs and has always performed well on this event for the Green and White. Hill, who also represented the Spartans on the Floor Exercise in Tuscaloosa, returns after averaging a 9.806 last season.
One of the most dynamic tumblers on the Michigan State roster, Coleman is a very powerful performer on this apparatus. She has upgraded the difficulty of her tumbling runs and hopes to score better than her career best 9.900 set on Mar. 7, 2004 at Boise State.
Iakounina trained specifically for the Floor Exercise over the summer and is expected to make a significant impact in this event for the Spartans. Banda-Scott was a consistent 9.8-9.9 performer for Central Michigan on Floor and will slide into the back-end of the Michigan State rotation this season.
Roggensack, Fanning and Dicus bring a wealth of talent to the rotation; the three freshmen boast all of the necessary skills to compete and succeed on Floor at the Division I level. Fellow newcomers McNally and Russell will add depth to the lineup with their athleticism.
Michigan State opens the 2006 season with a dual meet vs. Kentucky on Jan. 6. The Spartans will then host Pittsburgh and Western Michigan before embarking on road trips to Ohio State and Denver.
The 2006 State of Michigan Classic will be hosted by Central Michigan and will once again feature all-five Division I programs in the state.
MSU will compete at Ball State with Bowling Green on Feb. 10 before returning to Jenison Field House to host New Hampshire and Alaska-Anchorage on consectutive weekends.
On Mar. 3, the team will travel to N.C. State giving senior Sarah Alexander, a North Carolina native, an opportunity to compete in front of her family and friends.
The Spartans wrap up regular-season action vs. Big Ten rivals Illinois (3/11) and Michigan (3/17).
Post-season competition begins on Mar. 25 when Michigan State hosts the 2006 Big Ten Championship.