Gymnastics heads west to take on mighty UCLA

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Friday, January 29, 2010
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Next stop, historic Pauley Pavilion.

The ASU women’s gymnastics team will travel to Los Angeles this Sunday to take on perennial powerhouse No. 7 UCLA.

The five-time national champion Bruins (4-1) come into the meet boasting two of the top four all-around performers in the country in Canadian sophomore Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs and senior Anna Li.

“Going into their house is going to be tough,” ASU coach John Spini said. “But we just want to go out there and hit and let the pressure fall on them.”

UCLA was previously ranked No. 1 before suffering its first loss of the season to No. 5 Stanford 195.875-196.425 last week.

As for the Sun Devils (1-4), ASU managed to score its highest mark of the season in its last meet, 194.900, despite falling to rival UA.

“We have to figure out how to keep going forward,” Spini said. “I really think the key is for our juniors and seniors to come in there and look and act confident.”

The coach also points to a rare luxury his team has been awarded in the early goings of the season.

“We’re healthy, which is a really big plus, and we’ve been healthy all year,” Spini said. “This is a great point for us to say ‘Okay, we’ve got some experience, now lets see what we can do.”’

The Achilles heel for the Sun Devils thus far has been their performance on the ever-unforgiving balance beam. Last week alone, the Sun Devils lost almost a full point to UA on beam. ASU ended up losing by just over seven-tenths of a point.

“We have to stay on the balance beam,” Spini said. “We need [senior] Kaitlynn [Bormann] to hit, because she’s that senior­—we need her quiet leadership.”

The coaching staff has continued to help progress the team in the other events as well.

“I’ve seen some great things from the kids this week,” Spini said. “We are putting them in a lot of pressure situations, to try to take them out of their comfort zone and see how they do.”

Consequentially, some new faces might compete for the first time this season on Sunday.

“We might see [sophomore] Kelly Reilly make beam or [junior] Carly McMahon on vault,” Spini said. “We’ll know at the end of Friday’s workout. We are looking for kids who really want that spot and will come out and compete under pressure.”

This will be an important match-up for ASU, not only because it’s facing a highly touted squad, but for the potential post-season ramifications.

In collegiate gymnastics, when seeding a team for regionals, three out of the six meet scores must be earned away from home. And since judges usually give higher scores to the home team, away scores tend to weigh more heavily than home ones.

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