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34th-ranked Aggie gymnasts hope to turn heads in Arkansas

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From page B1 | April 03, 2014 |

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UCD's Katy Nogaki celebrates a strong vault in a meet earlier this season. The Aggies head to Arkansas on Saturday to compete in an NCAA Regional for the first time since 1998. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

Over the years, UC Davis has produced some outstanding female gymnasts.

Katie Yamamura (2013), Tiffany Chan and Amber Weddell (both 2004) and Erica Ruelas (2000) are graduates who come to mind.

But from a team standpoint?

No previous Aggie squad holds a candle to what coach John Lavallee’s 2014 women have accomplished together.

And now, 34th-ranked UCD heads to Arkansas for the NCAA Regionals on Saturday. It marks the first time the locals will enter the postseason as a top-36 college.

“This team’s ability to perform week in and week out is truly amazing,” Lavallee told The Enterprise. “We won’t go into this competition worrying about outcomes. Our secret to success has been taking care of (our) business. We’re worried about doing Aggie gymnastics … showing the rest of the country how far we’ve come and what we’re capable of doing.”

UCD rearranged the record book this winter.

Posting seven of the program’s 10 all-time meet marks, the Aggies’ 196.425 against Seattle Pacific on Feb. 28 shattered the old UCD record of 195.875 (set a month before).

Vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise team standards all fell as Katy Nogaki (9.900) tied the top individual vault effort and Dani Judal’s 9.900 did the same for the balance beam. Brilliant senior performer Anna Shumaker has posted five of the best all-around marks in school history

In Arkansas, Aggie women will find their most stern test of the season.

“We drew probably the toughest regional of all,” Lavallee said as he looked over the six regions’ entries.

Utah, ranked fifth, No. 8 UCLA, host and 17th-ranked Arkansas, Arizona State (No. 24) and No. 30 Utah State await in Fayetteville.

The Aggies’ regional qualifying score (195.260) suggests they have some tall cotton to chop this weekend as Utah (197.575), the Bruins (197.005), the Razorbacks (196.355), the Sun Devils (195.855) and Utah State (195.570) all have higher RQS.

But UCD finished ahead of Utah State in a Jan. 26 quad meet.

And Lavallee knows his squad is focused.

The Aggies have but one counted miss in any routine since January.

The highest-scoring two teams from each of the regionals go on to the finals in Birmingham, Ala., April 18-20. The top two placed performers from non-qualifying schools also advance.

“We have a host of folks who could make lightning strike,” said the eighth-year UCD head coach. “But again, the only thing we’re worried about is doing Aggie gymnastics, and doing the best that we can for that particular day.”

Shumaker, the co-captain who earned Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all-conference nods in each event and the all-around, is banged up. An upper-leg injury limited her to one event when the Aggies were beaten by Sacramento State two weeks ago in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation finals at The Pavilion.

Nonetheless, with sophomore Stephanie Stamates posting the league’s top floor exercise score of 9.870 and Lisa Wiktorski (9.84) tops among MPSF uneven bars competitors, UCD is loaded with capable athletes.

Five beam entrants, including Judal (9.835), provide another area for Aggie points.

Lavallee says the depth of Shumaker’s involvement in the regionals is still a topic of discussion, but adds that UCD’s second-place league finish spoke volumes about this group’s team sense.

“We’re very happy with what we did at the MPSF championship,” Lavallee explained. “We hit 23 of 24 routines. We had to make a lot of adjustments for Anna’s injury. In particular, we had two freshmen step up and score huge for us.”

Yonni Michovska, a Napa native, took home valuable points with a career-best 9.775 in the vault.

“Probably the great story of the meet for us was Rachel Kreager, who 12 months to the day had ACL reconstruction,” the coach noted. “She had to go in the beam lineup.

“We said ‘OK, let’s not change our lineup with the first five. We’ll put Rachel at the end. The first five will hit and there won’t be any pressure on Rachel.’

“Well, we had a miss.”

In her first appearance in the official lineup — ever — Kreager hit a 9.8 and her points were just enough to keep third-place (and No. 31-ranked) San Jose State behind UCD (194.875-194.550).

“That’s a pretty good first time,” Lavallee concluded, his broad smile validating that these Aggies can surprise anytime, anywhere.

Notes: Tamara Ross, a 1971 San Diego State grad, has been Lavallee’s right hand since coming over from Sacramento State four seasons ago. The assistant works in all events, but has been especially effective with balance beam — as evidenced by Kreager’s performance and the team-record scores. … Former Aggie bars and floor maven Carolyn Kampf (2007) is finishing her fifth year as an assistant and Taryn West (2013) is a volunteer assistant. … UCD last went to nationals in 1998, but was not a top-36 qualifier. … No. 1 and defending national champ Florida will be at a regional in its home state. In addition to Utah State, three other 2014 UCD opponents are in regionals: No. 19 California and San Jose State are at Minneapolis while No. 10 Stanford is in Baton Rogue. … Alamo sophomore Stamates drew Lavallee’s praise for “a tremendous floor-ex” in the MPSF finals. … No. 45 Sacramento State (194.360) and No. 51 Air Force (194.025) were MPSF squads just outside a regional invitation.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at bgallaudet@davisenterprise.net or 530-320-4456.

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