NEW HAVEN, Conn. – While most of Yale's student body is away from New Haven for winter break, Yale's gymnastics team is on campus, busily preparing for the 2014 season. This year's edition of the team combines strong leadership from its upperclassmen with a number of exciting new athletes and will look to improve on last season's already strong results.
Captain Ashley O'Connor is very straightforward about this season's goal: to win an Ivy title.
"[This] is something we have been capable of in the past," O'Connor said. She cited the need to approach the Ivy meet with "competitive and aggressive mindsets."
Last season saw Yale put up its highest single-meet score since 2004, scoring a 193.475 against Brown, Bridgeport and URI. This season, the Bulldogs want to top 195. O'Connor is very confident in her team's ability to do so.
"This team has great energy and we are determined to meet [our] goals," she said, adding that, "We set the bar high last season and we will build off of that."
The 2014 season is sure to feature strong performances by the four gymnasts in this year's freshman class. Anella Anderson is expected to compete in all four events for the Bulldogs. She is at her best on the balance beam, where her consistency performing difficult routines will lead to high scores. Kacie Traina is still recovering from injury, but has shown promise on beam and floor, where she will most likely make contributions later in the season. Mitzi Unda-Sosa has also battled injury, but has begun training on the vault and will eventually be a major factor on the bars. Tatiana Winkelman will most likely be competing on the bars and balance beam.
The sophomore class consists of only two athletes, but both will be crucial to the Bulldogs' success this season. Camilla Opperman sat out her freshman year due to injury, but looks to make a big splash on vault and floor. She may compete on bars and beam as well. Fellow sophomore Brittney Sooksengdao had a great freshman season, improving every meet, and will carry that momentum into her second season with the Bulldogs. Sooksengdao won the ECAC Championship on the beam last season and was honored with an Outstanding Contribution Award for her stellar performances throughout the year.
Junior Brianna Chrisman was injured last season and did not compete, but she looks to regain the form she showed during her freshman season, competing on bars, floor and vault. Joyce Li followed a strong freshman year with an excellent sophomore campaign and looks to keep improving in her third season. She was named an alternate for last year's NCAA Regional Championships, and will put up big scores competing all-around for the Bulldogs this year. Katherine Lucas competed on floor and vault in every meet for Yale last season, and will continue to provide consistent performances in 2014. Morgan Traina competed all-around in every meet last year, and will look to do so in this upcoming season. She specializes on the beam, where she won the Ivy championship her freshman year, and will continue to deliver strong scores this year.
The 2014 gymnastics team will be led by four seniors, each bringing different skills to the table. Maren Hopkins did not compete last season but was a steady performer during her first two seasons, especially on beam, and will look to return to that solid form in 2014. Nicole Tay competed on the bars in every meet last season and will continue on the bars as well as other apparatuses in her senior campaign. Tabitha Tay sat out last season due to injury, but competed in all four events during her first two seasons and is training on beam and floor for this year.
O'Connor, this year's captain, had a strong junior season, especially on the beam. She won an ECAC Coaches Choice Award for her beam performance against Penn, and tied for third with a season-high 9.725 against William & Mary. In addition to her experience and skill, O'Connor will provide strong leadership for the young squad. She is very optimistic about the team's potential, saying, "Our team is building in strength and improving exponentially every year," adding that "there are only great things in the future for Yale gymnastics."
The Bulldogs kick their season off on Jan. 19 at the New Hampshire Invitational, a quad-meet against Brown, Minnesota and host New Hampshire. Their first home meet is on Jan. 25, as Penn travels to New Haven to take on the Bulldogs.
Yale hosts the Bulldog Invitational on Feb. 1, hosting Bridgeport, Brown and Southern Connecticut. The Bulldogs wrap up their brief home slate the following weekend, when New Hampshire visits Payne Whitney Gymnasium.
On Feb. 15, Yale will travel to College Park, Md., to compete against Maryland. This difficult matchup will be a valuable test in the lead-up to the Ivy Classic, hosted by Brown this year on Feb. 23. Following the Classic, the Bulldogs will travel to face Penn State on Feb. 28.
As the rest of the student body departs for their spring break destinations, the gymnastics team will be competing in a number of meets in the run-up to the ECAC Championships. On Mar. 8, the team travels to Rutgers to face Central Michigan, Southern Connecticut and Temple, as well as the host Scarlet Knights. Barely a week later, the Bulldogs will venture back down to the Mid-Atlantic, where they will face George Washington and Towson. On Mar. 20, Yale competes in its last regular-season meet, against in-state rival Bridgeport. The Bulldogs will travel to Philadelphia on Mar. 22 to compete at the ECAC championships, hosted by Temple.
Depending on the season's results, some Bulldogs may be competing at the NCAA Regionals, which takes place on Apr. 5, or at the USAG Collegiate Nationals, which will take place on Apr. 12.
Report filed by Lyon Van Voorhis '15, Yale Sports Publicity