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Women's gymnastics 2009 season outlook

January 08, 2009

In his 29th year as the head coach of Arizona State gymnastics, John Spini, flanked by two new assistants, will lead a team of young athletes full of raw talent and strong abilities. With only three able upperclassmen, the Sun Devils will depend on the sophomores, who return from successful freshmen campaigns, and the excitement and talent of the new incoming class to bring the Sun Devils back to where they belong, the NCAA Championships.

After a boating accident over the summer caused Ashlee Hinkle to end her gymnastics career prematurely, Tiana Jean will lead the team as captain. The first-team Pac-10 all-around selection will again compete in all four events for the Sun Devils, with her strengths being on bars, beam and floor. She scored a 9.9 twice on beam last season and put up marks of 9.875 on both bars and floor.

"Tiana is going to be the backbone of the team this year," says Spini. "She's a consistent athlete with a lot of polish and you're going to not only see her excel athletically but as a leader too."

A late addition to the roster was added in November. Nicole Harris, one of the program's finest all-arounders, was reinstated to the roster after leaving early last season due to personal reasons. Harris, a 2006 All-American on beam, will use her natural talent and incredible flexibility to help aid the Sun Devils in their quest to Nationals.

"Nicole is just an outstanding athlete," says Spini.

Another senior, Carrie Finley also returns to the squad. Although she will likely not compete due to recovering from a shoulder surgery, she will help the squad in other ways.

Kaitlynn Bormann
returns after a strong sophomore season with the Sun Devils. The lone junior was a rock on beam last season, hitting a career-best of 9.825 and only recording one fall. Bormann also competed on bars last season, tallying a career-best of 9.725.

"Kaitlynn has overcome some injuries with her back and ankle and we're really excited to see what she's capable of doing with bars and beam," says Spini.

The Sun Devils return five sophomores from last year's freshmen class. Led by all-arounders Francesca Mercurio and Beaté Jones, the class looks to pick up from where they left off last season.

Mercurio comes back after being one of the team's most consistent all-arounders. Mercurio, who was named Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week once last season, is expected to compete in all four events again. Mercurio excelled on bars last season, earning a 9.825 twice. Mercurio also hit for a 9.875 on vault against Ohio State.

"We're looking at Francesca to be at that athlete that will get the job done for us in all four events and just be very consistent," says Spini. "She's going to be very strong for us on bars and beam and be that athlete on floor and vault that comes through for us."

Jones brings back her power and spunk to the Sun Devil gymnastics squad for a second season. Jones came through for the team last season as one of the team's top all-arounders. The dynamic vaulter scored a career-best 9.9 on vault last season and also turned in four career-high marks on floor of 9.825.

"We didn't expect Beaté to come in and do all the events she did last year but she really did a great job," says Spini. "We're looking at her to really excel on vault, floor and beam and be a consistent performer on bars."

The team's Scholar Athlete recipient, Mary Atkinson comes back for her sophomore season. Atkinson, who was limited last season due to back and shoulder problems, will be coming off shoulder surgery entering the season. The Barrett Honors College student put up solid marks of 9.825 on both vault and bars last season, but struggled with consistency. Spini also looks for Atkinson to contribute more on floor in sophomore campaign.

"Mary is in much better shape than she was last year. Physically, she's stronger and capable of doing a lot more," says Spini. "I'm hoping she can get in on vault, bars and floor for us and really round that out with some strong performances. She has not even come close to her potential and I really think she's an athlete that we can use this year."

One of the team's most consistent floor-workers last season, Brittany Schuett is expected to be a three-event athlete for the Sun Devils 2009 season. With her strength being on floor, Schuett will also be looked upon to compete vault and beam as well.

"Brittany did a good job for us last year on floor," says Spini, "We need to be careful of her ankle but she is someone who can come in and be a three-event athlete for us."

Skye Gentile was sidelined last season due a broken finger and has been working hard to make the lineup. The engineering major will continue to compete for a spot in the lineup.

"Skye has been working hard on bars, beam and floor and can hopefully develop into an athlete we can compete," says Spini.

Madison Snowden joins the Sun Devils' squad. The Kentucky transfer put up career-bests of 9.9 on beam and 9.875 while competing for the Wildcats. Snowden will be redshirting this season while nursing a non-gymnastics-related Achilles injury.

The Sun Devils boast seven freshmen on the 2009 roster. Full of raw talent and strong academics, the freshmen are expected to develop into a strong class.

Stephanie Hangartner, a local product from Chandler, Ariz., is expected to make an immediate impact on the Sun Devils bars and floor lineup. Hangartner also potentially be used on vault and beam as well.

"Stephanie is a great athlete and she is capable of working all four events for us," says Spini, "We're looking at seeing her work bars and floor especially and if she can get in the other two events that will be a plus for us."

Kahoku Palafox comes to Tempe from Hawai'i. Known as being a talented barworker, Palafox will also work hard to get a spot in the beam and floor lineup.

"Ko is a great athlete on bars. We'd like to work her into beam and floor eventually," says Spini. "Ko is a bit of work in progress but she's a great student and can help us a lot in the future."

Callie Price is another local Arizonan on the Sun Devils squad. The Phoenix native is expected to make the vault lineup and eventually work into the other three events.

"Callie is just raw talent," says Spini. "She's a really strong athlete but we need to work on her polish. She will be a consistent athlete on beam, is a great tumbler and can eventually help us on bars."

Coming to sunny Tempe from Minnesota is Amber Hammerschmidt. The talented freshman will likely make an immediate impact on beam and floor for the Sun Devils. Hammerschmidt also has a chance to work into the bar lineup.

"Amber is a really talented athlete. She has beautiful lines on both bars and beam and I think aesthetically can score well," says Spini.

Kelly Reilly is the final Arizona product on the ASU gymnastics team. The freshman will likely compete on vault for the Devils and possibly make an appearance on beam this season.

"Kelly is a young gymnast who is learning very fast," says Spini. "She has a great attitude and has the capability of being a big vaulter."

Hailing from Chicago, Ellen Gebhardt came out for the team after competing for Illinois Gymnastics Institute. The hard-working freshman looks to possibly compete on bars, vault and floor for the Sun Devils.

"We're trying to get a good release on bars for Ellen so she could be a backup," says Spini. "She's a work in progress, but she's a hard worker and can potentially help us once we teach her a few more skills and give her a few more sets."

Nicole Ferrandino rounds out the freshman class. While she will not be competing this year due to rehabilitating an ACL injury, Spini expects her to work hard in the gym to potentially compete next season.

The Coaches
The Sun Devils gymnastics coaching staff has two new faces this season. Jean-Luc Cairon and Jamie Dantzscher have been hired as new assistant coaches.

Cairon comes to ASU after being one of the country's top club coaches. A native of Forbach, France, Cairon has been involved in gymnastics since he was seven years old. He was a member of the French Olympic team for the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympic Games and holds three national titles (1983, 1984, 1987). Cairon has been a co-owner and coach at Krafft Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma since 1990. Cairon owns a degree in accounting from Forbach University and a first and secondary degree in physical education from French Ministry of Athletics in Antibes.

"Jean-Luc is a top-level club coach," says Spini. "He's got a great reputation of working well with young athletes and has already done a superb job with the team. I think he will be an asset to our program and be one of the reasons the team gets back in the national limelight."

Dantzscher comes to Tempe with an impressive gymnastics resume. After competing in the 2000 Olympic Games as a member of Team USA, Dantzscher moved on to have a stellar career at UCLA. Dantzscher was a four-time individual NCAA National Champion while at UCLA and helped lead the Bruins to three NCAA Championships in four years. Dantzscher won the all-around, vault and floor at NCAAs in her sophomore season at UCLA and was the 2003 co-bars champion. She holds the NCAA record of 28 perfect 10s and is the first and only gymnast to have scored a 10.0 in her first-ever collegiate routine. She also has seven years experience of working in club gymnastics.

"Jamie was probably one of the winniest athletes in the NCAA," says Spini. "She's very young but has been around the sport for a long time and will be a huge asset to us with helping the girls mentally. We're hoping she develops into one of the best recruiting coaches in the country."

Former associate head coach Maggie (Germaine) EthierGermainewill serve as a volunteer coach this season after leaving her full-time position to raise her newborn son. She will continue to help the team with floor and beam.

"Maggie did a superb job with us as an associate head coach over the past four years," says Spini. "She's one of the best coaches I've had here at ASU and I'm excited for her to come back this year."