The five-time Atlantic 10 champion GW gymnastics team has a new face this season, but head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham says her youngsters will retain the same leadership and attitude that helped the Colonials dominate their conference for the past five years.
“We’re a very young, young team,” Foster-Cunningham said, noting the lone senior and five freshmen on her squad. “I don’t think I’ve ever used the term rebuilding, but let me tell you, we’re in a rebuilding year.”
After losing six letterwinners, including 2002 A-10 Performer of the Year Devin McCalla and all-conference competitors Jessica Mantak and Jamie McNally, the team is relying on five new freshmen to fill in the gaps. Foster-Cunningham said she is confident her team can accomplish this.
“Devin left a legacy, and it was great having her here,” the three-time A-10 Coach of the Year said. “If you try to match up with someone like that, you only fall short. But our freshmen that are coming in have some skills that Devin never did. You can’t compare, and I don’t. We’ll make up for it somehow.”
Junior co-captain Rachel Mann, who stepped up to become an all around performer this year and will shoulder much of the leadership responsibility, said she is not concerned about the loss of key gymnasts like McCalla.
“We have new people coming in to take their spots,” she said. “Every team loses key players. At first it may not seem like they’re replaced, but it will all work out.”
The Colonials showed promise in their first meet against No. 22 Kentucky last Friday. Despite losing 193.625-191.500, their score was higher than in their first meet last year.
“It started off well,” Mann said after recording a team-high all-around score of 38.725, including a first place finish on floor with a 9.800. “We all did a lot better than we thought we’d do.”
Foster-Cunningham credited the captains for pulling the team together in such a short time.
“I think they’ve done a really good job with the freshmen,” she said. “And I think it’s a tribute to them for being able to have the leadership to prepare them for a meet like Kentucky. So I think the leadership is here, it’s just young.”
Sole senior Melissa Suter and co-captain junior Lindsey Parks will help Mann lead the young team. Parks, an A-10 Performer of the Week after her 9.900 vault score at Kent State last year, will continue to be an asset on vault.
While Mann, Suter and Parks will lead the way, much is expected from the freshmen. Tiffany Jones, the Ohio level 10 bars champion, will be a force on both the bars and the beam. Heather Kaufman, who competed all-around against Kentucky, will continue at that spot and will get better with experience, her coach said.
Foster-Cunningham’s main concern is consistency.
“Consistency is something that we are not sure about,” she said. “It’s kind of a wait and see year.”
The main competition for the young GW squad will be University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. After finishing neck-and-neck at the end of last season, GW beat the Tarheels for a bid to the NCAA tournament. A-10 rivals URI and Temple will also provide challenges throughout the season.
Foster-Cunningham said this year will be based on a team effort.
“Are we going to have a star? I don’t think so,” she said. “It’s just going to be a team that keeps coming at you. It’s just a huge team effort, and it’s exciting that way. They’ve meshed, they know they need to depend on each other, so nobody’s out there in the limelight.”
Colonial gymnasts to host GW Invitational
On Thursday night, the Colonials will host their annual GW Invitational. Seven teams will travel to the Smith Center, including conference rivals URI and Temple as well as Rutgers University, the College of William and Mary, Cornell University and University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. UNC will be looking for revenge after GW beat them out for a trip to the NCAA tournament last season.
“We usually do very well, but because it’s early, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham said. “We certainly have a chance to win, there’s no doubt about that.”