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Welcome to the Big House: Gymnastics headed to NCAA Regionals at the University of Michigan

The UNH gymnastics team found out it is headed to the University of Michigan on April 2 for the 2016 National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships Ann Arbor Regional during Monday’s NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Selection Show.

UNH finished the season ranked No. 33 in the country, locking up a spot in the top 36 and a berth into the regional round after placing second at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) Championships on March 19. UNH will join No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Michigan, No. 18 Stanford, No. 24 Eastern Michigan and No. 25 Penn State in the regional round. The top two teams during the competition earn the right to move on to the NCAA Championships.

“It was great,” UNH head coach Gail Goodspeed said. “It was great, because [making NCAA Regionals was] our goal this season. Our goal is obviously to hit 24 for 24 and stay in the moment at each meet, but the long-range goal is to qualify for NCAA Regionals.”

The ‘Cats have been quite successful at making the Regional meet with Goodspeed at the helm. In her 37 years as head coach, UNH has only failed to qualify twice. At times this season, however, the task seemed as though it might be out of reach, as injuries plagued the team after a hot start to the season.

“I didn’t know when the [EAGL] meet was over that we’d locked the spot,” Goodspeed said. “I knew we needed a 195.800 to guarantee having no one knock us out with their absolute best.”

UNH fell just short, totaling a 195.525 score. But as other conference championship results rolled in, it became clear that UNH had qualified.

Goodspeed admitted that the team felt the pressure prior to beginning the EAGL Championships, knowing that a berth in the Regional round was no guarantee like it was last season. According to Goodspeed, nine teams were essentially battling it out across the country for the final six spots.

“Great teams are out. N.C. State is out. Maryland is out. Iowa State is out. Those are really good teams,” Goodspeed said, highlighting the difficulty of making the top 36.

UNH had gotten off to a hot start this season, but then the injury bug swept in and took a toll. Casey Lauter, arguably the team’s top gymnast, suffered a leg injury that sidelined her on Feb. 7, and Marissa Toci, one of the team’s top vaulters, battled hip problems throughout the season, missing significant time.

Fortunately, the ‘Cats are getting healthy at just the right time. Both Lauter and Toci returned to competition for the EAGL Championship and provided vital scores for the team. Lauter was limited to beam, and will be in Ann Arbor, but turned in a 9.775 score. Toci led the team, hitting a career-high 9.800 on vault. The duo now has a few additional weeks to train and get back into their best form.

The return of two star performers will undoubtedly help the ‘Cats, but so too will the lack of pressure in this meet. As with all meets, Goodspeed is hoping her team will hit each of its 24 routines, but in terms of stakes, UNH has a relatively relaxed meet after the pre-EAGL nerves.

“We have nothing to lose,” Goodspeed said. “We are the sixth-ranked team at the Regional meet. Our only place to go is up.”

It won’t be an easy task moving up, but the Wildcats are looking forward to trying to make a run at moving into the nation’s top-25 schools when the NCAA Regional meet starts on April 2.

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