PAT LONGOBARDI — Sports Writer
Consistent performance and increased conditioning are what Southern gymnastics is looking for with an eye on better performances this season.
The Owls opened up on Jan. 13 with a loss at West Chester, 188.2-186, but saw some positive things to take out of it.
At the meet, the Owls won four events from junior Rebecca Brady (All-Around, floor exercise), senior Mallory Miller (balance beam) and sophomore Nina Daughrity (vault).
“We had a better start than we did last year,” said SCSU head coach Jerry Nelson. “Last year we narrowly missed qualifying for nationals as only eight teams can go. This team has a lot of depth and experience. Nationals are the goal because the team has a winning history.”
“We showed some sportsmanship and cheered (at the meet),” Brady said. “We had good times. The goal is to be more consistent.”
Brady said last year was more of a transition season in some ways.
“Last year we had a new team with a lot of freshmen,” Brady said. “We lost a lot of seniors. A lot of people competed and it was kind of a rebuilding year. We have a lot of talent and we know that. The big goal is Nationals. We can pull it all together.”
In 2011, the Owls had 12 wins during the season and had six athletes qualify for the USAG Collegiate National Championships last April. The team also placed second at the ECAC Championships last season.
Nelson said the team continues to challenge themselves with a more competitive schedule each and every season.
“We put up a strong schedule,” said Nelson. “We are not afraid of Division-I schools. [Playing bigger schools] raises our level of performance and our scores. We can minimize mistakes and maximize our scores. Our goal is to make as many routines as we can and then let the judges make the scores.”
Of the 19 athletes on the team, the class breakdown includes four seniors, three juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen.
There are three captains on this year’s squad—junior Rebecca Brady, senior Jessica Kiback, and senior Stephanie Kuska.
Kiback said one of the keys this season is being consistent in each event.
“The team goal is to make Nationals,” Kiback said. “We have potential. If we are consistent, then we can make it to Nationals. I hope to help the team as much as I can.”
SCSU head coach Jerry Nelson enters his eighth year with the Owls. Nelson, the 2010 ECAC Coach of the Year, has helped the team reach bigger accomplishments each season.
“Coach has been awesome,” Brady said. “He is motivating and he believes in us. [The staff] have been really supportive. We are ready for this season.”
Kiback said the staff has been great and she said they are in much better shape.
“Coach [Nelson] supports us,” Kiback said. “Kristan [Silvestri] our new coach has also helped us to get in shape a lot compared to past years and much stronger.”
The Owls will next compete at Rutgers with Ursinus and Temple on Jan. 28.
This year, the Owls will not have far to go for their late-season meets.
They could have some home advantage this season with the ECAC Championships being held at Southern on March 24 while the USAG Collegiate Nationals will be at the University of Bridgeport on April 13.
“We are excited [ECAC is at home],” Kiback said. “It rotates every year. We have only two home meets and it is nice to have the school’s support.”