Proven UCD gymnastics squad seeks higher bar

By From page B1 | December 27, 2012

UCD's Katie Yamamura — one of the four seniors on the 2013 Aggie roster — is the reigning MPSF Gymnast of the Year. UCD opens its season on Jan. 4 at San Jose State. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

UCD's Katie Yamamura — one of the four seniors on the 2013 Aggie roster — is the reigning MPSF Gymnast of the Year. UCD opens its season on Jan. 4 at San Jose State. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise file photo

For proof that the UC Davis women’s gymnastics team is going to be a squad to beat in 2013, opponents need look no further than the team’s recent history.

Probably most compelling is that the Aggies have captured three consecutive Mountain Pacific Sports Federation titles. Last year’s UCD edition scored a 193.675 during the conference championship meet and Katie Yamamura, now a senior, was selected as the MPSF Gymnast of the Year.

Aggie head coach John Lavallee also earned conference honors in 2012 — his fourth Coach of the Year nod. He led seven of his UCD gymnasts to all-conference recognition and program bests last season, all with a squad that was relatively untried in collegiate competition.

“We had a small, young team last year — competing (with) mostly freshmen and sophomores,” said Lavallee, who begins his seventh season at the helm. “But they were stepping up, and we succeeded with them in combination with outstanding veterans, like Yamamura.”

UCD returns with 23 of the 24 lineup slots intact from last year’s roster. The only loss was the graduation of Erika Van Dyke, whose preseason injury kept her to just seven uneven bars appearances in 2012.

Eight freshmen also are added to the mix this season. Aggies Michelle Ho, Anna Shumaker and Madeline Kennedy, all of whom nabbed two awards apiece at last year’s MPSF finals, will lend their veteran prowess to the newcomers.

Lavallee did not express much concern in fielding the fresh faces — citing the support of a seasoned UCD lineup, and the decorations that already adorn the freshmen. Six have competed at Junior Olympics national championship or invitational meets.

“I believe we have a strong team this year,” he added. “With such a great returning group of competitors, and a highly accomplished incoming freshman class, we have a great balance of youth and experience.”

His faith in the 2013 roster has Lavallee aspiring to finish among the nation’s top 36, which would earn the Aggies a spot at the NCAA Regionals. UCD has not competed in the national tournament as a full team since 1998.

And while Lavallee finds plenty to be excited for in the entire Aggie lineup, all eyes are on Yamamura’s last year as a historic presence at UCD. Her skill is spoken to by the fact that she earned six of the 12 MPSF Player of the Week awards in 2012.

“Not only has she done a great job this fall in getting herself ready and in shape, but she’s in a better place overall — in strength, speed and power,” Lavallee said. “Those are the things that put you up at the next level.”

For the Aggies to reach their goal of earning national recognition, it will take proving their worth against squads who have been on that stage. That is exactly what UCD has a chance to do as it begins the 2013 season at San Jose State on Jan. 4.

The quadrangular meet features rival Sacramento State, as well as two teams who are coming off of NCAA berths — the host Spartans and Stanford.

“I hope that we go down there and start out on a good foot,” Lavallee said. “We’re looking for the opportunity to show off some of our additions, and our returners, and have everyone perform well.”

— Reach Brett Johnson at [email protected] or 530-747-8052.

Brett Johnson

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