Jan. 9, 2002
BERKELEY - On any given championship team, it's not the proven talent nor the superstars that separates the team from other challengers, but the role players and the supporting cast that distinguish the elite teams from the contenders. In the same way, this year's Cal women's gymnastics squad has the ingredients for a championship squad. The talent at the top is in place. Lindsay Baker, Carrie Kreifels and Janet McKnight have proven meet-in and meet-out that they will hit the scores necessary for the team to be competitive, but the supporting cast that was often absent last season will be a strong force this year.
In addition to the five other returning gymnasts, the 2002 campaign features six incoming freshmen that have the ability to bring solid depth to the Golden Bears program.
"Last year, our top four were really strong, but we didn't have the depth needed in spots five through 10," says fifth-year coach Trina Tinti. "This year, we have a large freshman class and more experienced returnees. Hopefully, this additional depth and talent will allow us the flexibility to vary our line-up and rest key scorers so that we can be healthy and strong in our postseason championships."
Cal brings back virtually all the key ingredients from last season's team that went 17-19 and finished fifth at the NCAA Regionals (192.175). The lone loss, albeit a key subtraction, is two-time All-Pac-10 selection Pari Olver, who averaged a 38.708 in 2001, and set a Cal individual record on the beam (9.925) at San Jose State, Mar. 16. The graduated Olver participated in every event in all 12 meets last year, and Tinti will have to find an adequate replacement for Olver's high scores to have a successful season.
After breaking numerous records in 2000, the Bears were back at it again last year. Four team records, including a new all-time high on the all-arounds (196.075), and one individual record were broken last season. The 196.075 scored against Stanford was the first 196 mark by a Golden Bears team ever. The lone individual high was on the beam where sophomore Stephanie Kim and Olver scored a 9.925 against Stanford and San Jose State, respectively.
Cal also earned some recognition off the floor, earning the second highest average team GPA in the Pac-10 above schools like Stanford and UCLA, and 15th overall in the country. In addition, four Bears were selected Academic All-Americans. Lindsay Baker (3.60), Pari Olver (3.51), Katreece Stone (3.61) and Jarmin Yeh (3.76) earned the honor after collecting a 3.5 GPA or better in the previous academic term.
The added depth to this season's squad is welcomed. However, Cal once again faces a challenging nonconference schedule in addition to its traditionally rigorous Pac-10 slate. The Bears open the season against Cal State Fullerton, a team that beat Cal, 194.750-192.600, last year. Also highlighting the nonconference docket is Nebraska and Iowa State on Mar. 10. The Cornhuskers host the triangular meet between the three teams. Tinti believes that competing against such high caliber schools during the regular season can only help when regionals roll around in early April.
"Nebraska is a very strong team," says Tinti. "They're a top 12 team. Iowa State is also good, but we should be able to compete with both of them."
Cal will host four meets in 2002 and the biggest one by far, is the bi-annual California Invitational that boasts three University of California institutions. UCLA, the defending national champion, is the headliner with UC Davis and UCSB also joining the quadrangular meet.
After posting the school's highest team score ever last season against rival Stanford at Haas Pavilion, the Bears make a return trip to Stanford a week after facing the Bruins in the Cal Invitational. The two meets will go far in determining how the Bears stack up with the rest of the conference.
"Obviously, UCLA is the two-time national champions and Stanford is strong, but in terms of the rest of the Pac-10, I think we're right in there," says Tinti. "We have the talent and the depth to be top three in the Pac-10. So that's what we're hoping for."
The Bears again feature just one senior on the squad just like last season when Olver was the only fourth year gymnast. Lindsay Baker will fill Olver's role as co-captain of the team along with junior Janet McKnight. Baker ended up becoming a key all-around performer midway through last season debuting on all four events in the triangular meet versus Washington and UC Davis. Baker recorded a career high in the all-arounds with a 39.025 against Stanford, her second meet of the season. She re-recorded personal highs on the vault, the beam and the floor from her sophomore year.
The junior class features Lisa Arnold, Monique Johnson, Carrie Kreifels and Janet McKnight. Arnold, a vault and floor specialist, set a career high of 9.925 on the vault against Stanford (Feb. 18) and a personal high of 9.825 on the floor versus Washington and UC Davis. Johnson, also a vault and floor specialist, scored her personal best on the vault twice last year, most recently at the Pac-10 Championships (Mar. 24) scoring a 9.750. On the floor, Johnson notched a 9.850 at UC Davis (Feb. 25) to record her personal best in that event. Kreifels was the most consistent performer next to Olver in the all-arounds. Last year's co-captain set individual highs on three of four events. Kreifels set an all-around career high with a 39.200 twice last season. McKnight, who started off 2001 focusing on the vault and the bars, became a mainstay on the floor exercise, as well, four meets into the season. One of the most powerful vaulters on the squad, McKnight recorded career highs on that event (9.875 at Pac-10 Championships) and the floor (9.825 vs. Washington & UC Davis).
Stephanie Kim, the only returning gymnast to hold a No. 1 spot on the all-time Cal scoring list in any event, leads the sophomore class, which also includes Karrisa Chock and Katreece Stone. Kim stepped in as a freshman last year and participated in all-around competition before an injury kept her out of select events. Her career high of 9.925 on the beam also placed her in the top spot for Cal's all-time scoring list. Chock also struggled with some injuries and was out for the early part of the season, but came back strong, posting a career best 9.750 at San Jose State on the beam. She also posted a 9.825 at the Pac-10 Championships. Stone participated on the beam and the floor, also seeing time on the bars for the first three meets of the season. On the beam, Stone posted a career high of 9.900 in back-to-back meets. The redshirt sophomore also scored a 9.925 on the floor, which gives her the second highest score all-time. Stone has floor scores that place her second, third and fifth all-time at Cal.
With six decorated freshmen coming into the Golden Bear program, Cal's future looks bright. Sheilah Buack, Tara Capsuto, My-Lan Dodd, Adrienne Garcia, Miho Maeda and Lauren Shipp all have the capability to participate in the all-around. Buack and Dodd, particularly, have a good shot at moving up to the top four spots in many of the events. But above all, the sextet will give Cal the added depth that it lacked last season.
"The team wants to go to the NCAA Championships - we all want to go to NCAA's. The best thing the team can do is to make sure we are seeded in the top 18 prior to regionals and then hit all 24 of our routines there," says Tinti. "If we do that, we will be in a position to qualify and have a really good shot. This year, we hope to reach that next level."