2006 Men's Gymnastics Preview
At first, the numbers may look daunting ... just two seniors to guide a team of 17, but the Air Force men's gymnastics team brings a highly talented and experienced squad to the competitive arena this winter.
Although there are only two, the Falcons' senior class is a strong core nucleus for the rest of the squad to gather around. Brian Moore (Cypress, Texas) and Eric Peele (Bethel, N.C.) have each made their mark on the program during their first three years.
Moore, this season's team captain, gained first-hand knowledge on how to handle a young team last year, co-captaining a squad that featured just four juniors and seniors. Peele had a standout junior campaign, qualifying for the NCAA Championship preliminaries on the parallel bars and high bar.
The Falcons return four juniors who also have developed a strong class resume over the course of their careers.
The juniors are paced by Ryan Stromstad (Corona, Calif.), who earned the team's Most Valuable Player honors as a sophomore. In addition, Stromstad qualified for the NCAA Championship preliminaries on the floor and high bar, while picking up USA Gymnastics All-America honors on the floor.
The Falcons' junior class is rounded out by Kurt Antonio (Rio Rancho, N.M.), Edwin Berry (El Cajon, Calif.) and Josh Loeser (Alvin, Texas). Antonio competed extensively in the all-around as a sophomore - one of just two Falcons to do so. Berry and Loeser are each individual event specialists.
Air Force also boasts a tremendously strong sophomore class, as three of the five had solid freshman campaigns. The class' top returner, Nathan Glandon (Abilene, Texas), is another 2005 NCAA qualifier, as a competitor on the floor exercise. Glandon led the Falcons on the floor and on the still rings during several of the team's meets last season.
Classmates Brian Boardman (Naperville, Ill.), Kevin Murphy (The Woodlands, Texas) and Tyler Sickles (Phoenix, Ariz.) also had strong collegiate debuts and look to continue to improve in their respective events. Jon Roberts (Victorville, Calif.) and Chris Wood (Norco, Calif.) were both injured during their freshman seasons, but are now healthy and ready to compete.
Air Force welcomes four freshmen to the lineup, including three of whom were national qualifiers. Christopher Deans (Sugar Land, Texas) was a national qualifier, while teammate Josiah Loeser (Alvin, Texas), whose older brother, Josh, is a junior on the squad, competed at the Junior Olympic National Championships. Andrew Terrell (Choctaw, Okla.) was also a national competitor from 2002-05. The program's final freshman, Jacob Schonig (Los Gatos, Calif.), is preparing for his gymnastics debut after making the switch from wrestling prior to entering the Academy.
For the first time in 19 years, the Falcons will have a new face on the sideline. Kip Simons takes over the Air Force program from Lou Burkel, who recently retired after 30 years of coaching at the Academy. Simons, who previously served as the associate head coach at California-Berkeley, brings a solid resume to the Falcons that includes a place on the 1996 Olympic team. Simons will be joined by assistant coach, Lt Col Dennis Ramsey, and volunteer, Dave Mickelson.
In addition to the coaching staff, the Falcons will be assisted in practice by three cadet managers - junior Ryan Powell (Wildomar, Calif.) and freshmen newcomers Robert Berry (El Cajon, Calif.) and Matthew Maier (Conroe, Texas).
The Falcons open the season Jan. 13-14, with the annual Rocky Mountain Open, which features some of the nation's top programs. Following the season-opening homestand, Air Force heads out for seven straight meets away from the Academy. The Falcons begin their road swing with a trip to perennial-powerhouse and defending national champion, Oklahoma, on Jan. 20.
February is spent entirely on the road, beginning with a pair of road contests at Army on Feb. 3 and Feb. 5. The Falcons then travel to Aliso Viejo, Calif., for the annual All-Academy Championships with service-academy foes, Army and Navy, on Feb. 18. Air Force closes out the month with the Pacific Coast Classic in Oakland, Calif., on Feb. 25.
The Falcons remain in California for the Peter Vidmar Invitational on March 2, before heading to Tempe, Ariz., for the Southwest Cup meet on March 5. Air Force finally returns to the Academy March 10-12 for a pair of competitions with Illinois-Chicago. Following a quick road trip to Nebraska on March 18, Air Force closes out the season on March 25, hosting the 2006 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships in the Cadet West Gymnasium.
THE FINAL WORD
There is a tremendous amount of talent within the Air Force program and with a new coaching staff and the experience of the returners, the Falcons look to make a name for themselves at the national level.