Air Force Men's Gymnastics Season Preview
Jan. 12, 2010
Anticipation is high as the Air Force men's gymnastics team embarks on the 2010 season.
With a talented lineup of returning gymnasts and the untapped skill of an impressive corps of newcomers, fifth year head coach Kip Simons is looking for another banner year from his Falcons.
"This is going to be another year of Air Force gymnastics heading in the right direction," Simons said.
Only graduating four routines from last year's 36-routine lineup, the Falcons will once again be a young team, but the experience of the 12 returning gymnasts belies their age. The returning gymnasts gained valuable experience last season, as the squad continued to make strides.
The Falcons will be led by senior co-captains Garrett Canter (Tallahassee, Fla.) and Brennan Wolford (Thornville, Ohio). The duo has been an integral part of the Falcons' rotation during each of their first three seasons and will be able to use their knowledge to help their younger teammates.
During 2008, the first year of using the new scoring system, Canter controlled the Academy record on the pommel horse. He has competed in every meet during his first three years, including the individual event finals of the USAG Collegiate Championships as a freshman and junior.
Wolford is a two-time USAG All-American, having claimed the honor on the floor exercise and all-around as a freshman. Like Canter, Wolford has been a constant fixture in the Falcons' rotation, having competed in all but one meet during his first three years. Wolford also shines academically, earning academic all-conference honors during each year of eligibility.
Zaiser is a two-year participant at the national championship meet, having qualified in multiple events both years. Winning the floor exercise with a career-best mark, Zaiser was a vital part of the Falcons' first victory over Army at the Academy in four attempts. He is another Falcon who excels in the classroom, earning academic all-conference honors and a selection to the CGA Scholar-Athlete Team.
After seeing sporadic action as a freshman, Mills shined during his sophomore campaign and looks to extend that success into the 2010 season. Mills became the `go-to' all-arounder, earning an invitation to the NCAA Championships with the 16th best average in the nation. Mills, who collected six first-place finishes (including three in the all-around) last season, is the only returning Falcon to have earned Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Gymnast of the Week honors.
Classmate Dan Klimkowski (China, Mich.) has see injuries limit each of his first two seasons, but is a force for the Falcons when healthy. The 2008 Freshman of the Year got off to a strong start before being sidelined by injury. Klimkowski set the Academy's pommel horse record and also improved his personal-best scores on the floor exercise and still rings.
Fellow junior Matt Thorne (Poway, Calif.) enters the season ready make some noise in the Falcons' lineup. Despite competing in just seven meets as a sophomore, Thorne has already cracked the program's top-20 list on the parallel bars.
Although classmate Derek Kvedar (Lynnfield, Mass.) only saw action in the season opener, he was named the team's Hardest Worker as a testament to his day-to-day dedication in the gym. Kvedar enters the 2010 season ready to put that title to good use and earn a spot in the lineup.
With six members, the sophomore class boasts the largest of the veterans. Although just in its second year of competition, the class of second-year gymnasts includes two Academy record holders, two NCAA participants, three USAG All-Americans and the program's 2009 Most Valuable Gymnast.
Last season, Jacob Houder (Pinehurst, Texas) became the first freshman in Academy history to earn the team's MVP award and hopes to continue that success in 2010. A participant at the NCAA Championships, Houder set the Academy record on the pommel horse, while earning a pair of USAG All-America certificates (pommel horse, high bar). A Mountain West Conference Scholar-Athlete, Houder also earned CGA All-America Scholar-Athlete first-team distinction.
Devin Menefee (Houston, Texas), a one-time club teammate of Houder, also had a stellar rookie campaign. In addition to setting the program's vault record, Menefee earned USAG All-America honors on that event and participated at the NCAA Championships.
Although the Falcons will only have to fill the void of four routines, one came from the graduation of Jake Schonig, a two-time USAG national champion on the still rings. Menefee may be the veteran looked upon to take over the point production in Schonig's absence, as he became just the fourth gymnast to crack the program's top-20 list.
Fellow sophomore Joel Uptmor (Lebanon, Ohio) also returns to the lineup with a USAG All-America certificate, claiming his on the floor exercise. Uptmor will once again be a strong member of the vault rotation, as he held the Academy record on that event for part of the season.
Air Force also returns an experienced member of the pommel horse lineup in Chase Nobles (Knoxville, Tenn.). In his collegiate debut, Nobles hit a routine that was just shy of the program standard. Becoming a permanent fixture of the Falcons' pommel horse rotation, Nobles will use that experience toward another successful season.
Additionally, the Falcons look to add Kyle Mefford (Modesto, Calif.) and Travis Myers (Woodland Park, Colo.) to their competitive roster. Neither saw action as freshmen, but worked hard in the gym (Myers shared the Hardest Worker Award with Kvedar) and hope to showcase that training during the upcoming season.
Air Force will add seven freshmen to this year's squad, giving Simons the depth that is necessary for success. The class encompasses two state champions, one member of the Junior Olympic National Team and numerous selections to the Junior Olympic National Championships.
"These seven young men are, by far, the strongest recruiting class that I have brought to the Academy," Simons said of the newest members of the team. "The potential could be through the roof and I expect for them to make an immediate impact on all the apparatus, especially the pommel horse."
Troy Brown (Portland, Ore.) and Alex Jessop (Sylvania, Ohio) represent the former state champions on the freshmen roster. Brown, a three-time national qualifier, was the 2009 Oregon state champion and placed second at the Region 2 Championships, while Jessop was the Class 3 Ohio state champion. Jessop also boasts a strong background in diving, as he was the 2009 Northwest Ohio district champion and qualified for two state meets.
Classmate Travis Langham (Saugus, Calif.) was a two-year member of the junior national team, a four-year member of the Region I Select Team and a three-year Future Stars national qualifier. James Okamoto (Yorba Linda, Calif.) was named Gymnast of the Year by his club, while Carl Rossi (Sterling, Mass.) brings a 10-year history of gymnastics competitive to the roster.
Thomas Wilkinson (Austin, Texas) is the Falcons' final freshman. A five-time national qualifier, Wilkinson recorded several top-five finishes at the Texas state championship meet.
THE COACHING STAFF
"I'm so excited with this year's competitive schedule," Simons said. "I'm pleased with the fact that we finally have a strong home schedule."
Air Force opens the 2010 campaign on Jan. 16, when it hosts the annual Rocky Mountain Open and welcomes several of the nation's top programs to the Cadet West Gym. Simons is expecting a strong showing from his team at the RMO, as the coaching staff gets a real indication of the freshmen's talent in their first competitive meet.
The Falcons will then travel to Minneapolis, Minn., to face Minnesota on Jan. 30, before heading to Aliso Viejo, Calif., on Feb. 13, for the annual All-Academy Championships.
"It is crucial for us to have a strong showing at the All-Academy Championships due to the amount of pride between the academies," Simons said of his team, which finished second at the 2009 meet behind several outstanding performances.
Air Force travels to Lincoln, Neb., for a quadrangular meet with Nebraska, Illinois-Chicago and Ohio State on Feb. 21, before heading to Tempe, Ariz., on Feb. 27, for the first of two meets at Arizona State. The Falcons return to the Academy for a pair of dual meets against Illinois-Chicago on March 5 and March 7.
Following their homestand, the Falcons head out for a busy road trip that features three meets in a one-week span. Air Force will face Army for the second time on March 12 in West Point, N.Y., before traveling to Springfield, Mass., to take on Springfield College on March 14. The Falcons will wrap up the regular season on March 19, with a return trip to Arizona State.
Air Force returns to the Academy on March 26-27 to open postseason action. The Falcons will host the 23rd USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships at the Academy's Cadet West Gym. Simons hopes that the `home field advantage' will help the Falcons bring home their first-ever USAG team title.
The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships will be held in Norman, Okla., on April 3, while the 2010 NCAA Championships will be held April 15-17 in West Point, N.Y.
THE PRE-SEASON POLL
Backed by a pair of veteran leaders, a talented group of returning gymnasts and the uncharted ability of the freshmen class, the future looks very bright for the Air Force men's gymnastics team.