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CMU gymnasts ready for high expectations, unpredictable season

Central Michigan coach Christine MacDonald speaks with gymnasts as they compete against Kent State Feb. 16 at McGuirk Arena.

Christine MacDonald's first year as CMU's head gymnastics coach was unforgettable. 

Not because of a dominant Mid-American Conference title, but because the season was cut short by almost a month at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But, the 2020 season has come and gone, and the 2021 season is on the horizon and the Chippewas are set to begin another quest for MAC supremacy. 

Despite the challenges the pandemic presented the team, MacDonald said everyone needed to think differently but embrace a vital aspect of gymnastics -- Flexibility. 

Whether it's team Zoom meetings to keep everyone engaged and together or working around the COVID restrictions, changing course on a moment's notice has been important for MacDonald's team. 

"Being adaptable, flexible," MacDonald said, "that's something we've all had to learn through this COVID pandemic." 

Stars returning

Gone is Denelle Pedrick, reigning two-time MAC Gymnast of the Year. 

While there is no replacing a leader like Pedrick, there is an opportunity to reload. 

MacDonald said she is looking to the upperclassmen to lead the way and provide both depth and a spark for a CMU lineup that could change at various points in the season. 

"We're going to see a lot of different lineups," MacDonald said. "We have a lot of specialists with opportunities to be impact players, but they need to get experience."

Junior Morgan Tong returns after a dazzling freshman campaign and a strong 2020 season before the shutdown. MacDonald said Tong is one of the best workers on the balance beam and can get the job done whenever called upon.

"(Morgan is) a staple to the program," MacDonald said. "She'll provide the experience and depth that we need."

Senior Sydney Williams returns and will provide experience and depth wherever the Chippewas need her. 

Fellow seniors Nora Fettinger and Kennedy Rae Johnson will both bring their specialties -- Fettinger on the vault and Johnson on the bars or vault -- to give CMU a boost in those rotations. 

To start the season, junior Sierra Demarinis will assume the role in the all-around competition.

Leadership council

In years past, two captains are selected and are the voice for the team. 

This year, the coaches are changing up the leadership dynamic within the team and going with a leadership council of all five upperclassmen (three seniors, two juniors). 

"The coaches can come to us with any questions," Fettinger said. "We're able to be a voice for the team in that way." 

Giving more gymnasts the opportunity to share their voice trickles down to the underclassmen and has the team communication dynamic improve to have everyone heard.

"We all have something special we bring to the team," Fettinger said. "The coaches thought it up and it's been working great."


Both on and off the floor, MacDonald said she wants to see everyone grow as individuals and to trust the process. 

"It's been a long 10 months for us to get to this point," MacDonald said. "We're, obviously, excited to get to this point to be able to compete. That's first and foremost, were excited for this opportunity and thankful for it."

Fettinger, who was injured last season, said she has learned plenty in the last 10 months, but especially not taking any practice or meet for granted. 

"I want to take the opportunity to appreciate everything that's been given," Fettinger said. " ... I want to be that person the team can count on every single meet and can do my job to help the team this year." 

Fettinger said the team has high aspirations to win the MAC and to place high at the NCAA Championships. 

"(Winning the MAC) is our expectation and we've been working hard for that," Fettinger said. " ... We want to go to nationals and be the first CMU gymnastics team to make it to nationals."  

Here is the schedule for the 2021 CMU gymnastics season: 

Jan. 24 -- at Ball State
Jan. 31 -- at Western Michigan
Feb. 5 -- at Bowling Green
Feb. 21 -- at Kent State
March 7 -- at Illinois State tri (NIU and Lindenwood)
March 13 -- CMU QUAD (EMU, WMU and BALL STATE)
March 20 -- MAC Championships (Kalamazoo)