Gymnastics season preview: youth movement

(Matthew Stephens/Senior Photographer)

CMU gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard has always demanded a lot from his gymnasts.

But the 2010 season will bring a new challenge.

After finishing second in the Mid-American Conference last season, Reighard enters his 26th season with an infusion of youth on his roster.

Eight true freshmen are on the team this season, up from two that were active last year. But expectations remain high.

“You’re not fulfilling your role if you don’t help the team with a 9.7 (on each event),” he said.

It is the minimum score the veteran coach expects out of his athletes for the events they compete in. To get to the total-point benchmark of 194, those digits must be made.

It is the same goal he has preached since he first took over the program in the ’80s and it holds true of the freshman he recruits.

Coming from as distant places such as Georgia, Pennsylvania and Colorado, this season’s freshmen will be thrust into competitive roles immediately. In the team’s first meet, three of six gymnasts who competed on the balance beam were freshmen (Darrian Tissenbaum, Emily Lafontaine, Britney Taylor and Kari Dieffenderfer).

Early-season leaders

With just one meet under the team’s belt, it is still early to determine who will be reliable competitors.

But if last year’s performances are any indication, leadership will come from the veteran quartet of seniors Katie Simon and Jessica Suder, and juniors Cheryl Conlin and Andrea de la Garza.

Coming off a 2009 season in which she claimed four titles during the MAC Championship, Simon put the leadership role in steady hands. She finished her first meet of 2010 posting scores of 9.825 on the vault, 9.7 on the balance beam and 9.75 on the floor exercise.

Senior Jessica Suder has yet to compete in 2010 because of injury problems that have plagued her since 2008. However, Reighard said she has been a model in work ethic the past two weeks, participating in full practices.

All-arounder Cheryl Conlin is being relied on to bridge the gap between youth and experience and bring some stability, Reighard said. “We’re grooming her to be next in that position, and she is coming along really well,” he said.

But early contributions have had an impact, especially for Lafontaine, who scored a 9.6 on the uneven bars at Illinois State. But she scored less than 9.6 in her three other events, which has motivated her to improve, she said.

“I was really happy — there is just a lot of room for improvement, (though),” she said. “And I look forward to doing better.”

When recruiting players to his team, Reighard mentioned he and his staff look for those with a good mindset and are willing to get better.

He said the improvement of his freshmen will pave the direction of the team.

“Its going to be the difference in winning a championship or not,” Reighard said.


The team will begin its MAC schedule Jan. 30 at Eastern Michigan. Then, CMU’s biggest rival in gymnastics, Kent State, comes to Mount Pleasant on Feb. 13. The Golden Flashes are the defending MAC Champions, and CMU and Kent State have held bragging rights in the MAC for most of the past two decades.

Kent State claimed victory in two meets against CMU last year, including edging the Chippewas in the conference championship by two-tenths of a point. However, CMU did beat Kent State in the Eagle Invitational last March. Reighard said beating Kent State is one of the team’s goals for 2010.

The team also has home meets against Western Michigan and Ball State. Despite the competition against league rivals, Reighard said he stresses that, in gymnastics, your opponent is not of as big of a concern as yourself.

“There’s no defense, so you really don’t change your game plan because of the opponent,” he said, “There’s nothing you can do to counter what they’re going to do.”

The non-conference schedule includes meets in three different time’s zones, including Denver, Col., on Jan. 23 and Arizona State on Mar. 5, The long distances will not play much of a role in the teams attitude, said senior Katie Simon.

“We try to guard against it (fatigue) while traveling and try to keep a normal schedule,” she said.