Adding depth, lacking an identity
Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 00:01
The Oregon State gymnastics team has appeared in seven straight NCAA Championships — no easy feat.
So when the No. 9 Beavers began their season with a last-place finish in the Cancun Classic last Friday against No. 10 Michigan and Brigham Young, it indicated an eighth straight appearance may be tougher to come by.
Better to get that poor performance out of the way now than later, the team says.
“It was a good learning experience, but we can put this meet behind us,” said associate head coach Michael Chaplin. “I’d rather have this happen on the first meet of the year than the last meet of the year. It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish.”
The gymnasts agree with Chaplin’s sentiment, which was echoed in a team meeting following the disappointing showing in Cancun.
“I’d much rather have it happen at the beginning of the season to be able to build from it, instead of having a slump in the middle,” said senior Kelsi Blalock. “It’s bound to happen. You can’t have a perfect season, as much as you want to.”
And for the veterans who have experienced nationals routinely, the 0-2 start served as a reminder that OSU is not invincible.
It also showed there was a reason this team has been a regular at nationals for just shy of a decade.
“It was a very humbling experience,” said senior Makayla Stambaugh. “A lot of the girls think, ‘I’m on the Oregon State gymnastics team. We’re expected to make it to nationals and we’re expected to be successful.’ But you have to work for it.”
The Beavers tallied 193.600 points, behind Michigan’s 196.575 and BYU’s 194.475.
“Clearly it was not our best meet we’ve ever had,” Blalock said. “I think that was a combination of lack of preparation, which led to a not-very-high confidence level.”
It is the first time OSU has begun the season with a 0-2 record since 2004 — which, coincidentally, was the last time Oregon State did not make the NCAA Championships.
“We’re going to use this meet to light a fire under us,” Blalock said.
With a vital meet for the Beavers on Friday at Gill Coliseum against No. 14 Ohio State, finding this team’s identity will prove important, given the team’s start.
Gone are the team leaders from a year ago, Leslie Mak (two-time Pac-10/12 Gymnast of the Year) and Olivia Vivian (2012 All-Pac-12 on uneven bars).
It’s time for the new group of leaders to step into their shoes — quickly — to find that team identity.
“I have high hopes for this team, and I just think we all need to come up with a common goal,” Stambaugh said. “I think we’ve been a little divided lately. And that’s going to be my goal, as team captain, as one of the seniors on the team.”
The younger group of gymnasts is aware of the need for a team dynamic, as well.
“We definitely all need to be on the same page so we’re all working toward the same goal,” said sophomore Cerise Witherby. “It was definitely a huge wake-up call, I think, for everyone.”
Witherby is one of a few new faces that will be inserted into the lineup for the Beavers this year.
Last year was a rarity as far as depth. Six gymnasts accounted for 22 of the 24 events throughout the year, with four gymnasts competing in all-around (vault, bars, beam and floor).
This year, the lineups will be much deeper.
Witherby competed on floor and beam and sophomore Katelyn Ohlrich had the top score for OSU on beam.
“It’s always important to have that depth because last year … there were only a number of people that competed,” Witherby said. “By the end of the season, 13 weeks straight, it’s really hard on your body.”
There were a total of six Oregon State gymnasts in at least one event last Friday who competed little to none in 2012.
Added depth can be a bonus, but it’s up to the newbies to prove they belong.
“It can be really advantageous, as long as the depth we have can step in and do well,” Chaplin said. “Last year, we didn’t have to rely on it.”
“They need more of that experience, and they can’t rely on the juniors and seniors, and the girls that have been in lineup,” Stambaugh added. “They need to really push themselves to be in that lineup position.”
The younger gymnasts understand.
“It’s my responsibility to be making lineups,” Witherby said.
Oregon State is in a position it hasn’t been at in a while. The rest of the competition already has a head start on OSU after the first meet.
If the team wants to reach the NCAA Championships for the eighth consecutive season, the turnaround from the Cancun Classic has to begin now.
“We don’t want to have this last competition be an example of what’s to come,” Stambaugh said. “This team is definitely capable of so much more.”
Warner Strausbaugh, sports editor