NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Though Yale's campus lies apparently empty during winter recess, the Yale gymnastics team can be found hard at work on the upper floors of Payne Whitney Gymnasium, ringing in the New Year by relentlessly polishing skills and rehearsing routines. This year's team brings a wealth of experience, having lost only two gymnasts from last year's squad to graduation, and is intent on improving on last year's results, having finished fourth at the Ivy Classic and seventh at the ECAC championships in 2012.
"This year's team has worked incredibly hard during our preseason and we're ready to translate all that effort into great performances during competition," said captain Stephanie Goldstein. Both Goldstein and Head Coach Barbara Tonry, who has coached the Yale gymnastics team since its inception in 1973, emphasized the importance of preparation and consistent execution, especially since Yale's small team requires most gymnasts to compete in multiple events.
"While most teams are large enough to have specialists compete in each event," remarked Tonry, "Most of our athletes have to compete in two or more." Despite the team's small size, however, Coach Tonry is confident in her team's outlook for the coming season.
The 2013 season will be assistant Coach Jason Vonk's second in New Haven and his added expertise will continue to pay dividends. He is excited to see how the momentum created last season carries over to 2013.
"Yale Gymnastics had the most improved team score in NCAA Division I Gymnastics in 2012," Vonk points out. "That promises to be a stepping stone to an even better season and higher team scores."
Though the team's strength lies in its experience, the Bulldogs still expect big things from the two new freshmen. Brittney Sooksengdao looks to make an immediate impact on floor, vault and especially on the beam. The other freshman, Camilla Opperman, is currently recovering from injury but provides inspiration and enthusiasm from the sidelines, a contribution that was noted by Goldstein as well as the coaches. Once healthy, she should be a major contributor, especially on floor.
Though the members of the class of 2015 made a large impact during their freshman season, they look to continue improving during their sophomore campaign, with the added benefit of a year's experience in college gymnastics under their belts. Morgan Traina competed all-around at every meet last season, winning beam at the 2012 Ivy Classic and was named ECAC Rookie of the Year. Joyce Li was another all-arounder in 2012, winning two All-ECAC Rookie of the Week awards and finishing eighth in the all-around at the ECAC championships. Brianna Chrisman competed in bars, floor and vault last season, but unfortunately suffered a season ending injury during the pre-season and will not compete this year. Though Katherine Lucas sat out all of last season due to injury, she looks to provide depth, especially on floor and vault.
The junior class, all seasoned competitors, expect to raise their performances to an even higher level in 2013. Nicole Tay competed on bars, beam and floor for the Bulldogs last year and placed second on bars with a career-high 9.775 at the 2012 Bulldog Invitational. Her sister Tabitha Tay, another versatile performer, is recovering from a wrist injury and is hoping to be back competing on the beam within a few weeks. Ashley O'Connor had a resurgent 2012 campaign, making her college debut on floor and vault after injury limited her to the beam during her freshman season. She is now training to compete in all four events this season.
Though the Bulldogs certainly have a talented group of underclassmen, the heart and soul of this year's team is its senior class. Last season, members of the class of 2013 anchored three of the four events and this year, as the elder members of the team, they are also required to fill an increased leadership role. According to Coach Vonk, however, this is just another area in which they excel.
"[The seniors] are hard-working, talented and have strong leadership and rapport with the rest of the team," he commented. They are led by captain Stephanie Goldstein, who has been a consistent all-around performer during her entire Yale career. In 2012, she competed in beam, floor and vault at every meet, winning the 2012 ECAC Scholar-Athlete award in the process. Tara Feld, another all-arounder, came back from an injury-shortened sophomore year in a big way, winning the all-around at the 2012 New Hampshire Invitational with a career-high 38.775 and finishing eighth in the all-around at the ECAC Championships. Lindsay Andsager continued her career-long excellence on the uneven bars in 2012, competing on the apparatus in every meet and winning the event at the Bulldog Invitational with a career-high 9.85. She was named ECAC Specialist of the week twice for her performance. With the talent returning from last year and the addition of two key freshmen, the Bulldogs are intent on improving on last year's encouraging campaign. Yale will be hosting the Ivy Classic in Payne Whitney Gym in late February and Coach Tonry, Coach Vonk and captain Goldstein all pointed to a victory in the Classic as the season's primary focus and goal.
The Bulldogs will open the season on Jan. 12 at Rutgers with a tri-meet that also includes the University of Alaska-Anchorage. The following weekend, Yale will face off against Ithaca and cross-town rival Southern Connecticut in another tri-meet.
Yale's first home meet is against Penn on Jan. 27. The dual meet with the Quakers will mark Yale's first Ivy competition and will be a good early-season test against last year's Ivy Classic champions. The Bulldogs will be on the road for the following two weekends, competing at New Hampshire against George Washington and UNH on Feb. 3 and facing off against Brockport, Cornell, Ithaca and Southern Connecticut in the Big Red Invitational on Feb. 9.
On Feb. 16, Yale will host the 2013 Bulldog Invitational, a quad-meet with Bridgeport, Springfield and West Chester. The following weekend will mark the Bulldogs' last and most important home meet, as Yale will play host to the 2013 Ivy Classic on Feb. 23. With a home crowd behind them, the Bulldogs hope to capture the Ivy title.
After the Ivy Classic, the Bulldogs have three more regular season meets. On Mar. 2, Yale will compete in the New Hampshire Invitational against Brown, Towson and UNH. Then, while the rest of the student body heads off on Spring Break, the Bulldogs will travel to College Park, Md., on Mar. 10 to compete in a tri-meet with Maryland and Central Michigan. Yale will wrap up its regular season campaign on Mar. 15 with a dual meet at William and Mary.
The ECAC Championship meet will be on Mar. 23 in Ithaca, N.Y. If any Yale gymnasts qualify, the NCAA Regional Championships will be on Apr. 6 in Morgantown, W.V., Should the Bulldogs qualify, the USAG Collegiate Nationals will take place in Shreveport, La., over three days, Apr. 12, 13 and 14.