It may be difficult for the Red and Blue not to have high expectations for the upcoming 2005 season. Penn returns 12 letterwinners from a team that won both the Ivy Classic and an ECAC Championship last season. In addition, the Quakers set program records for highest team score at home (193.65), on the road (194.6), at the Ivy Classic (194.175) and at the ECAC Championships (194.6) in 2004. The Red and Blue also recorded new team highs on the vault and bars during the season.
Returning such a deep and talented team resulted in Head Coach Tom Kovic's smallest recruiting class since 1996. However the three newcomers coupled with an already strong and experienced lineup could be all the Quakers need to continue on their championship run.
All the pieces appear to be in place for the Red and Blue as they look to defend their Ivy Classic and ECAC titles. The return of such experienced squad members, along with the addition of three talented freshmen, should equal fierce competition for lineup spots as well as pushing to make the team stronger before they open the season at the George Washington Invitational on Jan. 16.
Seniors Christina Anzalone, Laura Bouchelle, Lex Chalat, Leah Moon and Yael Sollins all return for their final seasons with one goal in mind - adding more championship banners to the rafters of Hutch Gymnasium. Look for Anzalone to continue the success of last season, where she recorded the second-highest score on bars in program history with a 9.925 at the Ivy Classic. She now holds three of the top-four highest scores in the event in Penn history. Bouchelle placed first on the vault at Cornell with a 9.625. However, she tied her career-high 9.75 at the Ivy Classic, which was good for fifth all-time in program history. Chalat made a successful transition back into the lineup after injuries forced her to miss parts of the 2003 season. She set new personal records on the beam and floor, with scores of 9.7 and 9.825, respectively on Feb. 21 at Cornell.
Penn returns three gymnasts who competed in three or more events last season. Team MVP Emily Petkun headlines this group and will be joined by Moon and sophomore Kara Dewhurst. Petkun, a junior, enjoyed a breakthrough sophomore season in 2004. She became the first Penn gymnast to qualify for NCAA Regionals since 2001, where she finished 21st in the All-Around. During the regular season, Petkun ompeted in all four events at 10 meets. She finished the season with the third and fourth-highest scores in program history in the all-around with a 38.975 and a 38.95 respectively. Petkun also recorded the second and third-highest scores in the Penn accolades on the beam, with a 9.925 and a 9.9, as well as the fourth and fifth-highest scores on the floor, with a 9.875 and a 9.850.
Moon followed up her MVP season in 2003 with another successful effort in 2004. She set personal records on the vault, with a 9.725, on the beam with a 9.85 and on the floor with a 9.8. Her score on the beam was good enough for fifth all-time in Penn gymnastics history. Moon was also named first-team All-ECAC on the vault and second-team on the beam. Dewhurst started her phenomenal freshman campaign by setting a personal record on the vault with a 9.625 at the George Washington Invitational and she also won the bars with a 9.8 at that same meet. That performance led to her being named ECAC Rookie of the Week on Jan. 18. She also set a personal record on the bars at the Ivy Classic with a 9.85, and scored a career-high 9.825 on the beam two weeks later.
The Quakers next group of performers should showcase the deep lineup that Kovic has at his fingertips. Sollins, Kristyn DeMarco, Laura Duros, Jess Fuerst, Desirae Gaspero and Alexandra Perrotto all saw action in at least half of the Red and Blue's meets in 2004.Sollins placed third on the floor with a 9.675 in the Quakers season opener against Wilson on Jan. 12. DeMarco capped off her season with a personal best 9.9825 on the floor at the Ivy Classic, placing the junior fifth in the event. Duros scored two new personal-bests as well as three first-place finishes on the floor on her way to a tie for second at the ECAC Championships and being named first-team All-ECAC on the floor in her third season as amember of the squad. Fuerst, a junior, also scored new personal bests in two events on her way to a second-place finish on the bars (9.825) and beam (9.875) at the ECACs to be named first-team on both.
Gaspero participated sparingly after a knee injury forced her to miss the majority of her sophomore season. A healthy 2005 could see her back on top. Perrotto, a junior, was a single event specialists for the Quakers in 2004. Perrotto scored a career-high 9.65 at the Ivy Classic on the vault and received the ECAC Coaches Award on Jan. 18.
Three other Quakers who could give Kovic more options are junior Becca Aronson and sophomores Christa Quattromani and Julia Stolar. The quartet saw limited time in the lineup last season, but with another year of experience, they will provide Kovic with depth in all four events and could push for more competition time.
Rounding out the Red and Blue lineup will be the incoming Class of 2008 - Kimberly Chin, Stephanie Ortiz and Kelly Sievert. All three are Level 10 gymnasts and could immediately contend for competition slots in all events. There will be only nine or 10 competitive slots available this season, and the small but powerful freshmen class can compete in all of them.
While team success is always important, Kovic will also continue to challenge his group to excel in the classroom. The Quakers were named an Academic All-American team by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women for the second-consecutive season as eight individuals were recognized in 2004. Kovic said he believes “that academic success allows for everything else to move forward, which in the end could translate into a championship season for the Red and Blue. By doing the best that each Quaker can, day in and day out, in all facets of their lives, success will come.”
This philosophy should translate into another season of success for the Red and Blue.
Written by Jennifer Hildebrand, athletic communications assistant