Amy Farnum, NCAA.com
NC State may have lost its season-opening meet against then-No. 4 Oklahoma last week, but the Pack certainly gained a whole bunch of confidence against the Sooners.
The Pack hit all 24 routines en route to the highest season-opening score in program history as they fell to Oklahoma 196.175-195.150. Three freshmen made their collegiate debuts for NC State, including Stephanie Ouellette, who won the all-around (38.975) and shared the floor title (9.85) with junior teammate Jess Panza and two Oklahoma gymnasts. Senior Brittany Vontz claimed second place on the uneven bars with a 9.85, a mark that currently ranks 14th in the nation.
“Anytime you have kids that have experience and then adds kids with high-end talent, it makes for a lot of potential,” said head coach Mark Stevenson. “If anyone had asked me if we were going to be perfect in the first meet with no falls, I would have probably said the potential is there, but I don’t know whether we’ll actually do it. But they did, and did a great job doing it.”
Stevenson, who is the only coach in the program’s 31-year history, is excited about solid performances from upperclassmen and the immediate impact of the freshmen class.
“They are very dynamic and work very hard,” Stevenson said. “They are not afraid of competition. They went against Oklahoma without blinking an eye which I thought was very impressive for a team that was unranked coming in. I feel this team has more depth … we’re seven, eight, nine kids deep that can score the same. We’re going to be able to interchange some kids in the lineup and it won’t hurt our team which has never happened before … I feel really good about it.”
NC State’s season-opening score propelled the unranked Pack to No. 10 in the national team rankings, but Stevenson knows his team must consistently put up those numbers to remain among the best in the nation. The Pack’s highest-ever ranking was No. 9 entering the 1998 NCAA Championships. They finished No. 11 that season.
“It feels great to have the team up at that level, but like we keep telling the team, rankings are based on scores,” Stevenson said. “Their job is to go out and land their routines and the scores will take care of themselves – don’t even consider the rankings.”
Competition does not get an easier for the Pack with No. 13 West Virginia coming to Raleigh on Jan. 21, and a schedule that includes some of the nation’s top teams — No. 1 Florida, No. 3 UCLA, No. 18 Iowa and No. 18 Arizona – along the way.
“It’s not like things won’t be continuing at a high level for us,” Stevenson said. “I think that’s good because the kids will focus more and train harder to compete at that level.”
Need to Know
• Utah ended Georgia’s streak of 34 consecutive home meets without a loss (33-0-1) as the Utes squeaked by the Gym Dogs 195.900-195.800 on Jan. 14. It was the first time Utah defeated the Gym Dogs in Athens since winning the 1995 NCAA Championship in Stegemen Coliseum, and it was the Utes’ first regular-season victory against Georgia since 1991.
• Michigan senior Kylee Botterman was selected Big Ten Gymnast of the Week for the second consecutive week after collecting four individual titles and posting the nation’s highest all-around score (39.550) of the season in the Wolverines’ win against Illinois and Penn State on Jan. 14. The native of New Lenox, Ill., captured the vault (9.975), beam (9.875) and floor exercise (9.875) crowns in the meet. Botterman’s vault score is the best in the nation in the first two weeks of action, and her all-around average (39.475) tops the nation.
• No. 11 Kent State will host a four-way meet with BYU, George Washington and UW-Oshkosh at Cleveland’s Wolstein Center – the same venue where the Golden Flashes will be co-hosting the NCAA Championships in April. The Golden Flashes are enjoying their highest ranking in program history following a dominating road win against Sacramento State last weekend. Senior Christina Lenny made her season debut last week in grand fashion by claiming the all-around title. Her score of 39.325 is fifth in the national rankings.
Oregon State head coach Tanya Chaplin claimed her 200th career victory with the Beavers’ 195.925-193.300 win over then-No. 15 Ohio State last weekend … Alabama posted a 49.500 on the vault against Arkansas last weekend, notching the nation’s best score on any event so far this season. The Crimson Tide leads the nation with a 49.325 average on the apparatus, while four Alabama gymnasts rank in the nation’s top 10 individually, starting with second-ranked Kayla Hoffman (9.925) … Boise State junior Amy Glass garnered Western Athletic Conference Gymnast of the Week after earning the all-around, vault and beam titles at the Washington Quadrangular meet. It was the sixth career all-around title for the native of Vacaville, Calif., who currently is tied for fifth in the nation with a 39.325 average … Georgia senior Cassidy McComb won a total of six individual titles against Utah and West Virginia last weekend, and has claimed the all-around in all three of the Gym Dogs’ meets this season. She owns the second-highest score in the all-around in the first two weeks of competition with a 39.525 against West Virginia … Oklahoma freshman Taylor Spears had an outstanding collegiate debut on the balance beam, winning the event with a score of 9.875 at NC State last weekend. A native of Plano, Texas, Spears was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week and is currently ranked first in the nation on the beam.