PHILADELPHIA - With the calendar changing to 2012, another season of Penn gymnastics is upon us. Once again, the Quakers will open their season in the nation's capital at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational that is being hosted by George Washington. The event gets underway this Sunday at 1 p.m. Live video of the meet will be available. The video feed will focus primarily on George Washington's gymnasts but cover other teams during times when the hosts are not competing.
Competing in the six-team field is a number of ECAC schools including Cornell, Temple, and William & Mary. With these four ECAC schools - Penn included - both of the top-two and four of the top-five finishers from last year's ECAC Championships will take part in the meet. Rounding out the strong field will be nine-time defending champions of this event from the University of North Carolina and the host George Washington, who was the runner-up in this event last season.
The Quakers return eight of their 10 letterwinners from last season's record-breaking squad. In 2011, Penn finished with a program-best 18 victories. Included in those wins was the team's first Ivy Classic Championship since 2007. Penn's squad also finished second at the ECAC Championships and qualified for the USAG Championships.
Highlighting the returnees to this year's squad is junior Dana Bonincontri. As a sophomore, Bonincontri was named ECAC Athlete of the Year, capturing the all-around at the ECAC Championships and qualifying for the NCAA Regionals before just missing a trip to the national championships. She also earned first-team USAG All-America honors in the all-around, uneven bars, and floor exercise to go along with second-team honors in the vault.
Kirsten Strausbaugh and Megan Milavec also enter their junior seasons after both competed in the all-around a season ago. Strausbaugh was named an NCAA Regional alternate in the all-around and earned second-team USAG All-America honors in the all-around and floor exercise. Strausbaugh was also the Ivy Classic all-around champion. Milavec just steadily continued to improve throughout the 2011 season and was selected as Penn's most improved gymnast. She finished second at the Ivy Classic and was named a first-team All-ECAC performer in the all-around. She set career highs in three events and the all-around last season.
Seniors Laura DiPaolo and Katie Graham will also look to give Penn solid contributions in their final seasons. DiPaolo battled through injuries last season and was a constant contributor on bars and vault. She finished second at the Ivy Classic on vault and has scored at least a 9.8 in both of her events during her Penn career. Graham was a consistently one of Penn's top gymnasts on vault, balance beam, and floor last season. She posted career highs in floor and on vault and nearly broke her personal best in beam as a junior.
Coming back for their second seasons, Diana Moock, Keolamau Yee and Nicki Valenti each return after solid freshmen campaigns. Moock competed on vault and bars in every meet except for one and set her personal best on vault at this event last season. Yee was twice named ECAC Rookie of the Week last season and competed on beam and floor every meet. She scored at least a 9.7 on beam five times last year and scored at least 9.6 on floor nine different times. Valenti competed in the floor exercise in every meet last season. Her best floor routines came in two of the biggest meets last season, the Ivy Classic and ECAC Championships.
Six other gymnasts also return from last year's team looking to make an even bigger impact in 2012. Despite the graduation of just two seniors, Penn also brought in nine freshmen gymnasts who will be looking to make an immediate impact.
A season ago, Penn finished seventh in a bigger field at this event. The Quakers looked poised to finish in the top-three the team standings before other teams come on strong late to overtake Penn despite the team's 189.425 score in their season debut.
After the meet in Washington, D.C., Penn will open the home portion of its schedule next Friday, January 20, inside Hutchinson Gymnasium against Rutgers.