By ANDREW YOURELL
Gail Goodspeed has been coaching gymnastics at UNH for over 35 years and she had a bold statement about this year’s squad.
“This truly is the best team we’ve ever had,” she said.
It’s high praise from the head coach, whose teams have made the NCAA Regional level in all but two years of her tenure, but the early results seem to back up her words. The Wildcats are currently the No. 22-ranked team in the country and have the No. 3 beam routine in all of college gymnastics.
“You hear No. 3 on beam, but then you look at the rankings, and we’re behind [Florida] and Oklahoma,” senior captain Kelsey Aucoin said. “We’ve never had that experience…seeing it in rankings now is great for us.”
While beam has been the team’s strength, the Wildcats have been excelling on all fronts early in the season, having been ranked as high as the No. 15 team in the country. A hiccup score of 193.225 against Pittsburgh on Jan. 23 dropped the team’s average down, keeping UNH from the top-25 for the first time this season. The team rebounded over the weekend with a 195.800 score at the Don Tonry Bulldog Invitational, defeating the University of Bridgeport, Yale and Southern Connecticut State University.
While upperclassmen have provided a strong backbone for the team, part of the reason for the team’s success is the performance of the freshman class. UNH graduated three talented seniors in May, including two of the top beam routines, but has replaced them with a nine-person class.
One of the brightest young stars for the Wildcats is Danielle Doolin, who has earned recognition as the Eastern Atlantic Gymnastics League Rookie of the Week in each of the past two weeks. The New Jersey native earned the award after her first home meet, against Yale, where she recorded a 39.025 score to claim the all-around title. She defeated talented sophomore Casey Lauter and All-EAGL junior Meghan Pflieger.
“Everyone can count on each other and we know if someone messes up, we know to step up,” Doolin said, adding that she had been surprised by how team-oriented collegiate gymnastics were compared to high school and club teams.
While Doolin has earned the conference awards, she hasn’t been alone in receiving praise from Goodspeed, who raved about the contributions her freshman class is already making.
“[Danielle] Mulligan is our top performer on bars, and she has a bar routine that can compete with anyone in the country,” Goodspeed said. She also singled out Juliana Belar and Courtney Bondanza, but had especially good things to say about Nicole O’Leary.
“Phenomenal vaulter,” she said. “She does a vault that’s better, and I’ve told her this, than our only All-American, from 1989-91…and Nicole does that vault and she does it, actually, better than UNH’s only All-American.”
At Yale, the Wildcats returned to form, posting an impressive 195.800 score, which was more than two points better than the second place University of Bridgeport.
Pflieger and Lauter tied for the top score in the all-around with 39.150 scores, followed closely by Doolin in third place with a 39.100. Pflieger posted a 9.900 on floor and was second in the vault, where UNH finished second, third and fourth, with O’Leary and Lauter following Pflieger.
Mulligan and Jess Gracia notched a one-two finish on the uneven bars, with Mulligan taking the top spot at 9.900. Gracia’s score of 9.825 tied for a career-high. Aucoin, Doolin and Lauter all earned 9.825 scores on their floor routines.
On the beam, UNH once again dominated, taking the top five spots. Lauter claimed the top honor with a 9.925, and Lia Breeden set a new career-high of 9.900 as the team scored a 49.375 on the apparatus.
“Great weekend to rebuild the team confidence and enjoy the meet,” Goodspeed said of her team’s bounce back from the Pittsburgh meet.
“We’ve never really had this great of a start before,” Aucoin said. “Before, we’ve built up to these kinds of scores, but we’ve never started off that way. So to know that that’s just our starting score and we have much more room to improve is really exciting for the entire team.”
UNH returns home for the Wildcat Invitational on Sunday, Feb. 7. The Wildcats will host Bridgeport, Brown and Towson, starting at 1 p.m.
Balanced at the top
By ANDREW YOURELL