The GW gymnastics team looks to make a big leap at this weekend’s NCAA regionals in Gainesville, Fla. The women also hope to make up for a sixth-place showing last season after wrapping up yet another Atlantic 10 title March 24.
Saturday’s competition features the top 36 teams in the country. GW finds itself seeded fifth in the southeast region among the universities of Georgia and Florida from the Southeastern Conference, Maryland and North Carolina State from the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big-10’s University of Iowa. Towson University is an alternate team.
GW coach Margie Foster-Cunningham has her team in position for a possible trip to the NCAA Championships. The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors from each region will advance to the competition in Athens, Ga., April 19-21. UCLA will begin its defense of its national title in the west region.
GW received a berth into the regional tournament for the seventh time in the last eight years.
GW qualified for the regionals by having one of the top six qualifying scores in the southeast region. This number is calculated by dropping the highest meet score and then averaging the team’s two best home scores, road scores and alternate scores.
GW will rely on A-10 Performer of the Year Darden Wilee and junior standout Devin McCalla, who said the A-10s are a stepping stone for the Colonials. This year, Wilee and McCalla have combined to win eight all-around titles. In 10 of GW’s 13 meets this season, at least one of the two athletes finished in a top three all-around spot.
Wilee enters the regionals ranked 19th in the region’s all-around competition. Wilee said there is little doubt that her team can make it to the National Championships.
“We can do it,” Wilee said. “We know Florida is scared out of their minds of us.”
If Florida is afraid it is because of McCalla, the third-best all-around competitor in the region, who has the talent to win first overall. At last year’s competition, McCalla’s score of 38.975 in the all-around earned her fifth place. McCalla is also tied for first in the region on the beam. She said she knows how important mental toughness will be this weekend.
“It’s the end of the season and everyone is tired, but we want to have one more meet after regionals,” McCalla said.
Georgia and Florida will most likely prove to be GW’s toughest competition. Georgia, which last year finished third in the NCAA Championships, comes into the meet as the nation’s No. 2 team. Georgia’s own dynamic duo consists of Kristi Lichey and Cory Fritzinger. They are ranked first and second, respectively, in the region’s all-around competition. According to Wilee, Georgia’s gymnasts know they are good and use that to scare the competition.
“They are very intimidating,” she said. “Last year we were intimidated by them.”
GW will be making its second trip of the year to Gainesville. GW traveled there March 16 to face Florida and the University of North Carolina. Florida won the event with a score of 196.525, and GW took second with a 195.000.
This year, Florida will have the home-venue advantage. Wilee said she feels having competed in an earlier meet in Gainesville gives the Colonials an edge over the competition.
“We are just thinking of it as a regular meet,” Wilee said. “It’s a great place to compete at and we are really comfortable there.”
Also in the southeast region with GW is local rival Maryland, which won two of three matches this season against the Colonials. Maryland spoiled a record-breaking night for GW March 19 with a 196.500-196.000 victory. GW’s 196.000 broke the team’s scoring record of 195.750, but Maryland proved to be better that night.
Despite the outcome, McCalla said she is confident the Colonials can score higher than Maryland because of their familiarity with the College Park squad.
“It’s a mental boost,” she said. “We know we can beat them because we have.”