By ANDREW YOURELL, Staff writer
The Wildcats traveled to Morgantown this past weekend, where West Virginia hosted the 2015 NCAA Morgantown Regional on Saturday, April 4. The six-team regional meet included two-time defending national champions Florida, No. 11 Stanford, Illinois, Arkansas, UNH and WVU. The Wildcats scored 194.825 points to finish in sixth place. Florida’s 197.475 and Stanford’s 197.000 were good for first and second place, and a birth at the NCAA Championship Meet.
While the result of the meet wasn’t what UNH head coach Gail Goodspeed had hoped for, she talked about how proud she was of her team. Several members of the squad were battling sickness and injury, but competed anyways, and the Wildcats did not count any falls in their final score.
“Our goal of the year, you know, is getting [to NCAA Regionals] in the first place, and we were ranked 25th going in, and the goal was to stay 25th, and move up, and circumstances didn’t allow us to do that,” Goodspeed said. “But with the circumstances we had for the weekend, I was extremely proud of the team.”
Several key members of the team fell ill in the days preceding the meet and were unsure of whether or not they would be competing on Saturday.
“Erika Rudiger had a stomach bug, didn’t even go on the practice day, and we were not even sure that she was gonna be able to compete. And she stepped up and competed all three of her routines,” Goodspeed said. “Lia Breeden was not feeling well after the practice on Friday, and she stepped up and competed two events on Saturday after not really feeling too great.”
Other gymnasts were fighting through injuries at the meet. The ‘Cats began competing in January, and have had meets almost every weekend since, which takes its toll on the body.
“The general club gymnastics, high school level, they do two or three meets: January, February, March. Then they go States, Regionals, Nationals. So they’re not used to going every single weekend, and it’s a lot of wear and tear,” Goodspeed said.
The rigors of the season finally caught up to some of the Wildcats’ top gymnasts, including Meghan Pflieger, the East Atlantic Gymnastics League Gymnast of the Year and the Wildcats only all-around competitor at the Regional.
“After EAGLs, [Pflieger’s] ankles are just really bothering her. She hasn’t been able to train as hard as she’s used to training in the last two weeks, and she landed short on one double-back in warm-ups, and kind of jammed her ankles again,” Goodspeed said.
One bright spot for the hobbled ‘Cats was the return of freshman standout Casey Lauter. Lauter hadn’t competed in six weeks due to torn ligaments in her ankle, but she made her return known at the Morgantown Regional, competing on the uneven bars and balance beam.
Lauter and junior Kelsey Aucoin earned identical 9.875 scores on the balance beam, tying for sixth place at the meet. The duo’s performance highlighted the best beam performance the Wildcats have had this season, good for 49.300 points — a mere .025 points from the program record.
“I was really excited to be competing again, and I’m just glad I was able to finish out the season with the team,” Lauter said. The freshman had been an all-around competitor for the ‘Cats this season, but hadn’t competed since Feb. 16.
“I was just tumbling on floor, and I landed on my ankle, rolled out. I tore two ligaments in my ankle and had a bone chip,” Lauter said.
“Getting Casey back in the lineup was a key factor,” Goodspeed said of the season-high beam score. “When she got hurt, I was told she was done for the season. And she was obviously not done for the season. She did vault and beam for us … Stepped up and nailed both events.”
Stepping up seemed to be the mantra of the Wildcats’ season, according to Goodspeed.
The meet started off with an unfortunate fall from freshman Marissa Toci on vault, which was already one of the ‘Cats weakest events.
“But the next five people stepped up and did a great job,” Goodspeed said. She reiterated the resiliency of competitors like Rudiger, Breeden, and Pfleiger, who competed admirably despite aches and pains, and Toci, who returned from her fall on vault to turn in a solid performance on floor.
“I feel like regionals for us is a lot like just competing in practice. There’s no pressure, there’s nothing to lose for us, so we go out there and do the best gymnastics we can do,” said Aucoin, who competed in her second NCAA Regional as a Wildcat.
“It’s very different from what we grew up in, because it was such an individual sport up until college. And now it’s for the team, your routine counts just for the team,” Aucoin said when discussing her and the other upperclassmen’s role in helping the freshmen competitors. “That part, you kind of show them that you need to step up, and not only do it for yourself, but do it for the teammates.”
Aucoin and Lauter weren’t the only ones to stress the team above the individual. Goodspeed was honored after the meet as the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women Northeast Region Coach of the Year, for the sixth time in her 35-year tenure as head coach. In that time, her Wildcats have failed to make it to the NCAA Regional round only twice. She earned the regional Coach of the Year honors in 1991, 1994, 2001, 2003, and 2008 as well, but was quick to deflect the credit to her team.
“That’s basically a tribute to them [the team],” Goodspeed said of the award. “When I look at who the coach of the year is, I look at the team’s performance…that’s a tribute to this team having the kind of year that they had. It’s not a tribute to me, it’s a tribute to them.”
The Wildcats’ year included earning the school’s fourth-highest score in program history, with a 196.525 at the UNH Invitational in February; the team’s second-highest beam score in program history this past weekend; and a second-place finish at the EAGL Championships. Despite the disappointing end to the season, Goodspeed remained positive about the future.
“What happens at regionals that’s particularly good, especially when you’re in there as a team—that comes back into the gym, more motivated and more excited to be better,” Goodspeed said. “We’ll meet with each one of them individually and set some goals for next year.”
The ‘Cats will look to use the motivation from the regional meet to fuel them over the offseason. When they come back, they’ll be gunning once again to regain a spot in the nation’s Top-25 poll. With Goodspeed’s stability at the helm, the young talent on the roster, and the chance to rest and recuperate will give the team a solid chance to return to the NCAA Regional round again.