Finesse, flair, feel …
This year’s edition of the UC Davis women’s gymnastics team has it all — and judging from coach John Lavallee’s assessment of early workouts, this season could be something special.
Lavallee and the Aggies will know more after Sunday’s NorCal Preview at Sacramento State.
With the Hornets hosting No. 9 Stanford, No. 22 Cal, San Jose State and UCD (2 p.m. at The Nest), the locals will find out if their brilliant 2013 campaign was a stepping stone to bigger and better things.
“Talk about jumping right off into the frying pan at the beginning of the season,” said a smiling Lavallee during an Enterprise interview.
The Aggies are coming off of a spirited Dec. 7 intrasquad match that hinted at a stunning improvement from last year’s ranking of No. 42 in the nation.
That UCD group posted six of the school’s all-time top 10 scores, including their three best in their final three outings.
From versatile veteran senior captains Anna Shumaker and Madeline Kennedy (St. Mary’s of Stockton) and a healthy Tiana Montell to newcomers like Katy Nogaki, Taylor Baron, Yonni Michovska and Rachel Kreager, these potentially brilliant Aggies take the mat with a checklist of goals in hand.
“We have been knocking on the door of the NCAA postseason for several years,” the eighth-year coach said of his team’s improvement. “This is the most talented group of young women that we’ve had since I’ve been here … so our No. 1 goal is to be in the top 36.”
The top 36 squads qualify for NCAA regionals.
Last season, UCD’s 194.780 regional-qualifying score put it at 42nd in the nation, less than three-tenths of a point from a postseason berth. Cal finished in the mix at 195.340, ranked 28th.
Lavallee says another goal is to capture a fifth straight Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship. That task is going to be more difficult, thanks to the addition of San Jose State and Sacramento State to the conference.
Both return to the MPSF after the Western Athletic Conference dropped gymnastics.
Despite the loss of last year’s senior leadership in back-to-back MPSF Gymnast of the Year Katie Yamamura and NCAA qualifier Michelle Ho, Lavallee can’t wait for this season to begin.
UCD’s depth is perhaps best seen when it hits the vault.
“We’re klnda loaded,” the coach said — and for good reason.
The Aggies will have Shumaker (UCD’s top regional points performer), Kala DeFrancesco, Stephanie Stamates and Montell flying down the runway.
Montell, a junior from Hilo, Hawaii, was conference all-around champ two seasons ago and Lavallee says Stamates “has a tremendous vault … can put up some huge scores.”
Montell, who hit eight straight balance beam routines after returning from an injury last season, speaks to the all-around ability of these Aggies.
Ditto for Alameda High grad Shumaker, clearly formidable wherever she lines up on the floor.
As for the four freshmen …
Michovska (Napa) and Kreager (Santa Rosa) are alumnae of San Mateo Gymnastics. Injuries have slowed their progress, but Lavallee sees them contributing as the season advances. Redshirt freshman Nagoki (uneven parallel bars, vault) and Baron (vault, bars) also return from injury and are expected to add to that depth.
So, with the new-look MPSF (Alaska-Anchorage, Air Force and Seattle Pacific are the other league members) in the immediate future, Lavallee thinks the addition of the Hornets and Spartans will help elevate his Aggies to the next level.
“We’re going to have more than our hands full,” the coach reported. “Hopefully that extra push (from San Jose State and rival Sac State) is what we need to get over that 36 threshold.”
It’s a busy January for the Aggies. UCD hosts Alaska-Anchorage on Jan. 13 before heading off to Seattle for a meet with San Jose State, No. 25 Arizona State and host No. 20 Washington.
The Spartans, Stanford and Utah State come to town on Jan. 26.
Down the road, the Hornets and Aggies go hand-to-toe at The Pavilion on Jan. 31, then in Sacramento on March 7.
UCD hosts the Mountain Pacific Championships on March 22 with NCAA regionals set for April 5 in Seattle.
“But it’s going to be fun. That’s why we do it,” Lavallee said with another smile.
Notes: UCD is unranked, but is the only MPSF squad in the “others receiving votes” section of the first women’s poll, released Dec. 13. … Former Sacramento State assistant Tamara Ross is Lavallee’s right-hand coach with Carolyn Kampf and UCD grad Taryn West also assisting. … “(Our women) have done an amazing job getting themselves ready physically, mentally and emotionally to start the season,” Lavallee said. With that given, UCD performers will start every routine with a 10.0 degree of difficulty, a first for the program. … Two ex-Aggie gymnasts — Andi Dolinksy (Utah State) and Tanya Ho (Sacramento State) will be on opponents’ sidelines.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-320-4456.