2006 Women's Gymnastics Preview
Youth will once again be the name of the game for the Air Force women's gymnastics team. The 2006 version of the squad features seven freshmen and sophomores, compared to just three juniors and one senior. Although those numbers may look daunting on paper, the experience of the seven returning gymnasts will blend perfectly with the talented enthusiasm of the newcomers.
The team will have to find someone to fill the void left by the graduation of two-time MVP Jessa Liegl. Despite losing a six-time USA Gymnastics (USAG) All-American, three-time Academy record holder and the 2004 USAG balance beam champion, the Falcons boast a number of athletes who appear up to the task.
The team's only senior, Lauren Robison (Garner, N.C.), brings a solid and successful three-year career to the Falcons' rotation. A 2004 USAG All-American in the all-around, Robison has also racked up numerous accolades from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), including all-conference second-team honors on the uneven bars, floor exercise and all-around as a junior. Robison has competed in every meet for the Falcons since her freshman season, earning an all-around berth to the NCAA Regional Qualifier during each of the past two seasons.
Joining Robison among the team's elder leaders are a trio of juniors, who have served on the Falcons' team throughout their collegiate careers. The group is led by all-arounder Sashonna Iwaniec (Ligonier, Pa.), who solidified her sophomore campaign with USAG All-America honors in the all-around. Another returning NCAA Regional Qualifier in the all-around, Iwaniec earned second-team All-MPSF honors on the vault and beam, in addition to finishing seventh in the all-around at the 2005 MPSF Championships.
Classmate Christine Powers (Hurst, Texas) has become a staple on the balance beam for the Falcons over the course of her career. Holding a career-best tally of 9.850 on the apparatus, Powers has participated in every meet since midway through her freshman campaign. Although the Falcons' other junior, Charlotte Freedman (Albuquerque, N.M.) hasn't had a tremendous amount of competitive experience, she has been a vital part of the Falcons' training procedures.
Despite their youth, Air Force's three sophomore members each compiled impressive resumes during their debut season. Kelly Lewis (Plano, Texas) qualified for the NCAA Regionals on the vault, where she went on to score a 9.550 at the regional competition. Lewis cleared the nine-point mark in three of the four events, while nearly crossing that plateau in the fourth. In addition, Lewis recorded a personal-high all-around score of 38.600 at Nebraska - the fourth-best combined score of the season by anyone on the team.
Teammate Katie Donnell (Santa Fe, N.M.) also had a stellar freshman season, cracking the 9.500 mark on all four individual events and the 9.600 barrier on all but one. A competitor in every meet for the Falcons, Donnell continued to improve as the season went on, setting two of her career-best marks in the team's final home meet. Although she was just a freshman, her score on the uneven bars was the third-best on the squad, while her balance beam total was fourth.
The Falcons' final returner, Jill Ward (Centreville, Va.), had an impressive debut until an ankle injury took her out of the Falcons' uneven bars and balance beam rotation midway through the season.
In addition to returning seven of its most consistent performers from one year ago, Air Force welcomes four exciting freshmen to the mix. The Falcons will look for newcomers Mary Barrett (Copperas Cove, Texas), Joana Everett (Memphis, Tenn.), Elisa Rhynedance (Fort Meade, Md.) and Abigail Rogers (Pittsburgh, Pa.) to add depth to the 2006 lineup.
This quartet brings vastly different backgrounds to the Air Force, but they all strive ahead with the same goal -- to make the Falcons' rotation and contribute.
Everett enters the Academy with a strong resume, having trained at the GymStars Junior Olympic Training Center. While at the JOTC, Everett advanced to the Level-Nine Eastern Championships in 2004 and finished third in the all-around at the 2005 Level-10 Tennessee State Championships.
Rhynedance is an all-around athlete who spent her club days at the Capital Gymnastics National Training Center, while Barrett, another competitor in the all-around, spent two years as a Level-Nine gymnast at the Tumblers Gymnastics Club. Rogers, the squad's final newcomer, will concentrate on the floor routine this winter, having placed second in the all-around at the Pennsylvania Level-10 State Championships.
In addition to the four newest Falcons, Air Force will also have a new face on the sideline, as Holly Tedeschi begins her first season as the head coach of the women's squad. Tedeschi, who served as an assistant coach with the program during the 2000-04 seasons, will be joined by second-year assistant coach 2nd Lt Tammy Ritchey.
The Falcons begin the season with their longest road trip of the year, as they travel to Anchorage, Alaska, for a pair of contests with MPSF foe, Alaska-Anchorage, on Jan. 13-15. Air Force will head to Shreveport, La., on Jan. 20, for a meet with Missouri and host Centenary, before taking on Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas, on Jan. 29.
During February, a pair of meets in Denver bookends the Falcons' first home meets of the season. Air Force travels to Denver to face the Pioneers on Feb. 4, in the first of three showdowns with its interstate rivals. The hometown crowd will get its first glimpse of the 2006 Falcon squad on Feb. 10, when Air Force hosts UC-Davis, Centenary and Wisconsin-Stout in the Cadet West Gymnasium. The four schools meet up once again on Feb. 12, before the Falcons head back up I-25 for a meeting with Denver and Big-10 foe Ohio State. The Falcons close out the month with a trip to Seattle, Wash., to face conference-rival Seattle-Pacific on Feb. 25.
March proves to be another busy month for the Falcons, who start out in Davis, Calif., for a conference meet with UC-Davis on March 3. Air Force competes in its final road meet of the season on March. 10, when it travels to Lexington, Ky., for a tri-meet with Kentucky and Ball State. Following that meet, Air Force returns to the Academy and closes out the regular season the way it started, taking on Alaska-Anchorage in a pair of dual meets (March 18-20). Air Force will conclude the 2006 campaign hosting the annual Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships on March 24 at the Academy. The event, which will run in conjunction with the men's conference meet, will also celebrate 50 years of Air Force gymnastics.
With the proven experience of the stellar upperclassmen and the promise of its newest rising stars, the Air Force women's gymnastics program combines a wonderful assortment of experience and enthusiasm to guarantee an exciting winter season on the gymnastics floor.