Aggie gymnastics squad seeks fourth conference title

By From page B1 | March 21, 2013

UCD junior Anna Shumaker is one of three Aggies to have won MPSF Gymnast of the Week awards in 2013. The locals head to Seattle for the conference championships on Saturday. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

UCD junior Anna Shumaker is one of three Aggies to have won MPSF Gymnast of the Week awards in 2013. The locals head to Seattle for the conference championships on Saturday. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

While some gymnasts have gotten more of the press, it has been an entire UC Davis squad that has contributed to a record-shattering 2013 campaign.

For their team-wide effort this season, the Aggies are perceived as the favorites to win their fourth consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship on Saturday at Seattle Pacific’s Royal Brougham Pavilion.

But even though UCD head coach John Lavallee has faith in the abilities of his squad — which ended the dual meet season at 11-11 — he is hesitant to declare that distinction.

“It’s not really on our radar,” Lavallee said. “There’s a lot of things tied to the meet; we have (NCAA) regional qualification implications, both as a team and individuals.

“But we’re trying to block all that stuff out and just concentrate on finishing with the best gymnastics we can do. We’ll focus on what we’ve been doing well to be successful up to this point.”

It’s easy to see why the Aggies are favored when looking back on their achievements in a campaign that began with the highest season-opening score in school history.

UCD later exceeded the 195-point barrier for the program’s first time, scoring 195.475 at a March 1 meet with San Jose State. Also noteworthy that day was senior Katie Yamamura breaking her own school all-around record with a winning 39.325.

The following week, the Aggies’ strong performance in the first three events had them temporarily holding a lead over Boise State — a squad ranked 23rd in the country.

UCD’s momentum continued through the last meet of the season on Friday, where it once again reached new heights, topping the mark it has set just two weeks prior with a score of 195.625 against rival Sacramento State.

“This season has put UCD gymnastics on a new level,” Lavallee said, “and it has been incredibly exciting to watch.”

As the Aggies head to Seattle for Saturday’s conference meet, thoughts of climbing even higher in the record books aren’t far behind.

“We feel that if we can go out there and hit five out of six routines on each mat, we will be fine,” Lavallee said. “If by chance we do better than that, maybe we can reach another school record.”

This is one of the last opportunities to rise to the occasion for Yamamura, who was selected as the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Week twice this season — and has earned 12 weekly awards in her career.

Fellow senior Michelle Ho also received two conference nods in 2013, while junior Anna Shumaker — who has broken the 39-point all-around barrier in the past two weeks of competition — earned one MPSF award.

According to Lavallee, the entire cast of Aggies has been putting in extra hours on the mat in preparation for the upcoming conference finals. He added that this continued tenacity is what has set the 2013 UCD edition apart:

“This team has done a great job of getting themselves ready physically. We’re stronger, faster and more powerful than in the past. That athleticism has allowed us to perform better.”

The Aggies hope a combination of work ethic and natural talent is enough to beat Air Force, Alaska-Anchorage and Seattle Pacific — their primary opposition in the race for conference glory.

Air Force, after scoring a 194.700 in a home dual with Denver on March 11, is probably the biggest obstacle in UCD’s path to a four-peat. Alaska-Anchorage was the last team other than the Aggies to win an MPSF title — doing it in 2009 — and Seattle Pacific’s home-turf advantage will make it tough to get past.

“Anything can happen,” Lavallee said. “The only thing we can control is the performance. We’re not so much concerned about what others are going to do.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett

Brett Johnson

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