“Since coming here, going to regionals had always been a topic of conversation. My freshman year we came really close,” says UC Davis senior gymnast Anna Shumaker. “It’s always been a goal, but a lot of times, it was a deer-in-the-headlights kind of thing.”
In Shumaker’s first three years as an Aggie, it seemed UCD faltered down the stretch …
“We’d get really close, then fall back too far and not make it.”
However, 2014 looks to be a different story.
On Jan. 26, before a home crowd of more than 1,000, the Aggie women set their all-time record by scoring 195.875 in a quad meet featuring Stanford, San Jose State and Utah State. The locals finished second that day, but since then have set the record books aflame.
Just last week, UCD scored 195.175 in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation road win at Seattle Pacific. It marked the first time an Aggie squad broke 195 away from The Pavilion.
And now comes word that Troester Consulting — the folks who put a microscope to the Regional Qualifying Scores of U.S. collegiate teams — has UCD ranked No. 31 in the land.
If the locals keep or improve that placement in the March 31 rankings, it will head to the NCAA Regionals on April 5 in Seattle. The top 36 squads qualify. It would mark the first-ever appearance for the Aggies.
“We’re on a mission,” says head coach John Lavallee, in his eighth season at UCD. “We have to carry the same attitude and performance level, regardless of the situation.”
Lavallee says the impact of his captains Shumaker and Madeline Kennedy have been catalysts in bringing the Aggies together.
“The biggest change since Anna and Maddy have been here is attitude and expectations,” the coach continues, pointing to the 195.175 effort up north.
“To actually break that 195 barrier, I think, goes a long way in a team’s confidence — that we can go anywhere and we can perform well and score well.”
Shumaker, who lists balance beam as her favorite routine, has been a strong all-around performer. She has rewritten her own personal-best log and contributed mightily when UCD set its all-time record Jan. 26.
Meanwhile, Kennedy — who loves floor exercise — also has had some key beam outings (9.8 at Seattle Pacific, her career best) and, with Shumaker, supplies stability when things get shaky.
Early on, for example, UCD was hitting on all cylinders. Its season-opening 193.450 was a school record, but the Aggie captains thought the squad could do better.
After a couple of so-so meets, Shumaker and Kennedy called a team meeting.
“I think it was turning point,” explains Kennedy, a graduate of St. Mary’s High in Stockton.
Kennedy says the Aggies understood the concerns, worked on being better teammates and took the collective work ethic up a notch.
Focus at meets was also a topic of discussion.
“Since (then), we’ve all done a really good job keeping what we call our Aggie bubble,” two-time All-MPSF gymnast Shumaker told The Enterprise. “So when we’re in competition, no one looks to see what everyone else is doing. The focus is on us.
“Everyone has had increased confidence and if we keep that equation going, it definitely leads to success every time.”
As seniors, obviously the pair takes its leadership role seriously — especially with so much on the line this late in the season.
“We (as captains) are there (to provide) what everyone needs at that moment,” Kennedy explains. “If they need a big sister, a kick in the butt, someone to give them whatever kind of guidance they need, in whatever form … we’re there.”
Another charge, Kennedy says, is to be the “communicators between the team and the coaches.”
With a 7-8 record (good, considering the level of competition) and that No. 31 ranking, it seems like this is the season coaches and performers alike have been anticipating.
“I always knew there was a point where I thought we’d be able to follow through,” says the Virgina-born Shumaker. “We just needed the right team to do it.
“I think this year we finally have a team where everyone is on board, everyone knows what we’re capable of, so it’s showing in our performance.”
Notes: UCD hosts Seattle Pacific Friday (7 p.m.) on an evening during which seniors Kennedy, Shumaker and Regi Solvkjar will be honored. It also marks Friends of Jaclyn Night with newly “adopted” Aggie Alyssa Kalb, 6, and her family in attendance. Alyssa is battling a brain tumor. … Down the stretch, UCD will travel to Sacramento State (March 7), then Cal on March 15. Davis hosts the MPSF finals on March 22, then waits nine days to find out if it is off to Washington for the NCAA Regionals. … Kennedy on floor ex: “We really get to connect … I really feel energy from my team and the crowd. It shows the performance aspect of the sport best and there’s not a better feeling than being able to smile through my whole routine.” … Shumaker on why she likes the beam: “Because it’s a challenge. All the other events are hard, but beam is the most mentally difficult. Because of that, the reward is greater when you hit.” … Shumaker is an Alameda High grad and both she and Kennedy are exercise biology majors with eyes toward physical therapy careers.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.