Seven gymnasts to compete for finals bids at nationals
April 2, 2014 | Chattanooga, Tenn.
Liberty University's gymnastics team is sending seven athletes to the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastic Club Championships, where they will compete against close to 1,000 gymnasts, Thursday through Saturday at the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Civic Center.
"We've got an exciting week ahead of us," said Liberty third-year Head Coach Rachel Steele, who placed first on the balance beam at the 2010 NAIGC National Championships in Texas.
Liberty is one of 77 women's teams and one of 66 men's teams in the competitive division. There are an additional 21 teams that will compete in the open division, new to the event this year.
The Lady Flames must be ready to roll in Thursday's first session, starting at 8:40 a.m., where they will compete with University of Denver, Kent State University, Ohio University, Tarrant College, the University of Texas, the University of Texas at Dallas, and Texas A&M University's A and B teams.
There are six different sections and only the top team from each — as well as two individuals on every event and in the All-Around — qualify for Saturday afternoon's finals.
Liberty will look to improve on last season's record-high 13th-place team finish, though it will have a difficult time advancing out of its nine-team section.
"It is a pretty challenging group, competing against a couple schools from Texas who have done well in the past," Steele said. "I'm hoping for the best. We can put up a pretty good fight. If we wouldn't make team finals, we should have girls qualify for individual events."
Liberty's top three individuals, who will each compete in all four events in the All-Around, are junior Alyssa Frost (who's strongest on uneven bars), sophomore Alexander Wescott (who's strength is in the floor exercise), and freshman Jessie Hoague (who's best on the balance beam).
"Frost and Westcott are going to put up a good fight to qualify for all-around competition," Steele said, noting each team's top four scores count in each event. "I'm expecting those three girls will have the top three in all four events."
Sophomore Constance McNair and juniors Jennifer Schools and Ashley Ford round out the women's team with McNair and School's strength on the floor and Ford's on the balance beam.
First-year graduate student Jonathan Baldwin, the Flames' sole male competitor, also will compete in an opening session, Thursday at 8:45 a.m., against gymnasts from James Madison University, Kennesaw State, Kent State, Miami University, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, SUNY Brockport, Texas A&M, University of Georgia, University of North Carolina, UNC Wilmington, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Texas at Dallas.
"It's going to be very difficult for Jonathan because the Texas teams have incredible competitors, especially on the guys side," Steele said. "If he has a good day like he's capable of doing, he should do well."
Though his strengths are in the floor exercise, parallel bars, and vault, Baldwin will compete in all six of the men's events, making him eligible for the All-Around finals.
"In three of the six events (the pommel horse, high bar, and rings) he hasn't been able to practice much, but he's going to go for it," Steele said.