Feb. 4, 2010

 

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com


Nebraska gymnast Kylie Stone wasn’t too happy she competed alone at last year’s NCAA Championships without her teammates, especially with the Huskers hosting the event.  So, this year, Stone is focused on one goal – helping the Huskers to their first team appearance at nationals since 2007.

Stone’s teammates are on board with the fifth-year senior’s goals, as their performances have proven during the opening month of competition.  The Huskers are currently ranked No. 10 in the nation, and are fresh off a key Big 12 victory against Missouri last weekend.  They head to No. 2 Oklahoma on Feb. 5 with a 5-0 record.  

“(Not competing at nationals has) totally affected this season,” said Stone.  “It has motivated a lot of the girls in the gym.  Our freshmen and sophomores have not been to nationals yet.  We try to tell them stories of how it is at nationals.  I think sitting in the stands at nationals last year made a huge impact on the girls.  We don’t want to do that this year again.  I’ve told them it wasn’t that great competing at nationals by myself.  I’ve tried motivating them using that, and I think it’s working so far.”

Stone, the squad’s lone returning All-American, is also the most experienced gymnast on the Huskers’ roster.  A former member of the Canadian Olympic Team, the native of Calgary, Alberta, was selected the 2009 Co-Big 12 Gymnast of the Year after winning 18 individual titles, including five in the all-around and seven on floor last season.
 
Last year, Stone advanced to nationals with a fourth-place all-around finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional.  And, despite tearing her calf muscle the week before the meet, Stone was determined to compete on the biggest stage in collegiate gymnastics.  She ended up competing on the uneven bars, posting a 9.85 to earn second-team All-America honors.

Stone has continued to be a solid competitor in her senior season, winning her second bars title (9.925) of the season against Missouri last week, but head coach Dan Kendig is even more pleased with how her leadership skills have developed this year.

“This year, she really has moved into that role in the sense that she’s taken a little more ownership,” said Kendig.  “It’s not always that you’re necessarily the oldest person or the best person on the team.  It’s definitely a big change in her this year, and it’s refreshing to see that in her.”

Not only does Stone lead by example on the gym floor, but she is also playing more a supporting role with her teammates this season.

“I want to help contribute to the team as much as possible, and also help them on the sidelines with support,” said Stone.  “I know our freshmen and sophomores, and I guess everyone, has nerves before competing.  I like to make jokes and help them calm down.”

Although she has competed as an all-arounder throughout her career, Kendig and his staff have Stone competing on just the bars and vault early this season.  

“I’ve been having troubles with my calves and Achilles being sore – nothing major,” said Stone.  “We decided I should take it easy in the beginning of the season, and try to hold off until the postseason to actually compete on floor.  I’ve been starting to get back into the floor and it’s been feeling pretty good.”

Kendig believes Stone’s fresh legs later in the season will be a key to the Huskers’ postseason success.  

“It’s a long season,” said Kendig.  “She wants to do floor.  She’s starting to tumble a little bit more.  She’s our best kid on floor, hands down.  I think if she started doing it in January, April would come and we wouldn’t have her again.  We’re trying to be smart.  The team, this year, started strong – we want the team to finish strong, and especially Kylie to finish strong in her senior year.”

With Stone, who sat out the 2008 season due to a preseason injury, and junior Maria Scaffidi back after a preseason injury in 2009, the Huskers are poised for one of their best seasons in a few years.

“We’re a better team this year because they are both back and the rest of the team has worked hard,” said Kendig.  “We’re in a good place right now and need to remain healthy, and pay attention to detail, and I think things are going to happen for Nebraska.”

After a great start, the Huskers are ready for their biggest meet of the year – a battle against Big 12 foe Oklahoma in Norman.  

“If you don’t get up for this, you might as well get out of sports,” said Kendig.  “It’s a challenge, and you have to step up to that.  We’re not going in there thinking, ‘well, they are the No. 2 team in the country, let’s go down and do our best and see what happens.’  Not at all.  Our team wants to go down there, and not only do their best, but come out on top.  I believe that every one of them feel that’s a possibility.”

Stone is looking forward to some stiff competition, and knows her teammates are, too.

“We haven’t really hit our peak yet and I think we’re ready to show other teams what we’re really made of,” said Stone.
Nebraska and Oklahoma, along with Texas Women’s University, will compete in a tri-meet on Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. CT, at the Lloyd Noble Center.