PHILADELPHIA - Following up two of the most successful seasons in program history will not be an easy task for Penn gymnastics in 2006. However, thanks to some outstanding returning talent and a strong recruiting class, Head Coach Tom Kovic is confident that his team is up to the challenge.
The Quakers will try to keep their momentum up for their season openerSaturday at 4 p.m., a home quad meet withTowson, Wilson, and Ursinus. The meet will pit the last two ECAC champions, as Penn won in 2004 and Towson in 2005.
In 2005, Penn sported a 11-2 record and finished third at both the Ivy Classic and ECAC Championships. Despite failing to defend their 2004 ECAC title, the Red and Blue posted their best winning percentage since going 8-1 in 1998, when the team swept ECACs and the Ivy Classic.
“In all my years as a coach, the 2006team is the complete package,” said Kovic, who is entering his 19th year at the helm.
Hopefully, that package will allow the Quakers to achieve the season’s goal - to retake the Ivy Classic and ECAC crowns.
This year, Kovic will have plenty of talent and depth to choose from as the core of the team returns and a group of nine freshmen will fill the void left by five graduated seniors.
The seven seniors on this year’s team have experienced tremendous success during their time in the Red and Blue. After finishing second at the Ivy Classic and sixth at ECAC Championships in their freshman season, this class was key to Penn capturing the 2004 Ivy Classic and ECAC titles. In 2005, as juniors, they placed third at both the Ivy Classic and ECACs. Most impressively, they qualified as first alternates for NCAA Championships, something no other Penn team had ever done.
“This senior class will go down as the most successful class in the history of Penn gymnastics,” Kovic said. “They are one of the most talented classes I’ve ever coached. They are going to play a pivotal role in our success.”
Captains Becca Aronson, Jessica Fuerst and Desirae Gaspero will lead the team in 2006. Aronson is coming off a 2005 season that saw her set a new personal best in the vault, while Fuerst took part in three meets last year, scoring a season-high 9.650 on the beam at Denver. Gaspero had a solid 2005 after bouncing back from a knee injury in 2004, winning the beam competition against Temple at home.
“They are three very strong personalities with exceptional leadership qualities. I have great confidence in them and their abilities to lead the team to meet all of our goals this year,” Kovic said.
Senior Emily Petkun will once again be looked to as one of the team’s top all-around gymnasts after an outstanding 2005 season. For the second-straight year she competed at NCAA Regionals, where she placed 16th in the all-around at NCAA Regionals after earning first-team All-ECAC honors on the floor (9.875) and second-team spots on the bars (9.627) and beam (9.550). She was also third in the all-around at the Ivy Classic with a 37.250.
Rounding out the senior class are Kristyn DeMarco, Laura Duros and Alexandra Perrotto. DeMarco scored a season-high 9.450 on the floor during the home quad meet on Feb. 12, while Duros won the beam in the same meet with a 9.750. Duros also had an excellent meet at Temple, taking second on both the floor (9.825) and beam (9.500). Perrotto saw action in four meets last year, posting a season-high 9.550 on the bars at Air Force.
Atrio of juniors will continue to contribute to the team. Kara Dewhurst placed second on the bars at last season’s Ivy Classic with a season-high 9.800. She also posted a season-best 9.500 on the vault at the home quad meet on Jan. 29. Classmates Christa Quattromani and Julia Stolar will continue to provide depth to the squad. Quattromani was named the team’s Most Improved Gymnast following last season, while Stolar saw time on the floor last season at the Feb. 12 quad meet.
Sophomores Kimberly Chin and Stephanie Ortiz return after outstanding freshman debuts. Chin placed 16th at ECAC Championships on the bars with a 9.650, and won on the bars at the Feb. 12 home meet with a 9.675. She was also fourth on both the bars (9.750) and beam (9.600) at the Ivy Classic. Ortiz’s performance at the ECAC Championships merited her spots on two All-ECAC teams. Her 9.625 on the beam earned her first-team honors, while her 9.800 on the floor put her on the second-team.
“What a talented duo. They were tremendous contributors last year for us,” Kovic said.
A promising group of freshmen will solidify the Quakers’ roster. All nine newcomers are experienced Level 10 gymnasts with a track record of success at the local, regional and national levels. The Class of 2009 also includes three former Junior Olympic qualifiers in Kylie Beutler, Stefanie Navarro and Katie Riggleman-Thomas.
“There was a high volume of recruiting activity last year throughout the country and we took full advantage,” Kovic said. “Every single individual will compete for slots, and each of them has the ability to contribute immediately.”
Joining Kovic on the bench are John Ceralde and Keri Monahan. Ceralde, in his fifth year as an assistant coach, has been recognized as one of the best assistants in the region, winning the ECAC Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2004. Monahan begins her first season with Penn after a superb gymnastics career at Stanford.
“To have John and Kerri as part of the staff is so welcoming. They’re both very talented,” Kovic said. “John is a big reason for our success in recent years. Keri comes in with such tremendous experience that she will be critical to our coach-student connections.”
Building quality student-athletes through their academic achievements will also continue to be a primary focus of Kovic and his staff. Last season’s team finished with an average GPA of 3.51, the highest in the history of the program. In Kovic’s 18 years as head coach, he has seen over 140 Quakers earn Scholastic All-America awards, including 11 of 18 on last year’s roster.
“I am tremendously proud of my team for how they perform in the classroom, not just last year, but for the past 18,” Kovic said.
With all the pieces in place for another shot at Ivy Classic and ECAC success, the bar has been set high for the Penn gymnastics team. Having tasted what it’s like to be on top just two short years ago, 2006 is sure to be a memorable one for the Quakers.