The ASU gymnastics team woke up at sunrise for 5 a.m. practices in August, ran stadiums in the heat and went through a copious amount of chalk all in the name of preparing for the 2013 gymnastics season, which kicks off in less than a week against No. 4 Oklahoma on Saturday.
In the sea of maroon tank tops and black shorts floats a lot of new faces. Seven seniors graduated at the end of last year, and now seven freshmen take their place. Four are on full scholarship, and three walked on.
“I am so impressed with those kids who walked on our team,” ASU coach John Spini said. “They fill in a lot of spots on our roster, and I’m really pleased with the whole group. To have those kids who really fought for a spot (is) so helpful in moving to another level.”
Along with practicing her own routine on Monday, senior Amelia Rew also leads the high five on many occasions.
It’s all part of her new role. The absence of last year’s seniors also means Rew, graduate student Kahoku Palafox and junior Samantha Seaman are the only upperclassmen on the roster.
“I think it’s really exciting,” Rew said. “You know, it’s bittersweet. I’ve kind of taken more ownership of this team. It’s great to have all these young ones, but it’s also more of a responsibility. They look up to you, you’re leading them. It’s exciting.”
Two years ago, Spini’s team failed to make it to title competition. Last year, it became the most improved team in the nation. This year, Seaman’s plan is to move even further.
“We’ve got to keep it up,” she said. “I feel like we need to keep that progress going so we can break into the top 12 and make it to nationals this year.”
Seaman said the team will execute that starts with the first meet against a top five opponent.
“We need to give Oklahoma, if we don’t win, a run for their money, because that’ll show them that we can hang with the best of them,” she said.
But the schedule does not get much easier after the Sooners.
Two weeks later, the Gym Devils face No. 2 UCLA, No.5 Utah, No. 9 Oregon State, No.6 Stanford and No. 17 Washington consecutively in the next four weeks.
Then they head down to Tucson to meet rival UA to be broadcasted on the Pac-12 Network.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time, and when I first saw this schedule, with No. 4, then No. 1 … it’s a good test for us,” Spini said. “Even if we get a loss with these, if we get a good score and they drag us up and bring us into regionals and nationals, that’ll be huge.”
Spini said it will all come down to how his young team reacts to the tough schedule ahead.
“Every meet is going to be a learning experience,” he said. “We are a young team. I’m putting a lot of goals in place for these kids — score in the 195-plus range at this first meet, hit five routines per each event, but it’s all about putting them in a position where they can succeed and not get back on their heels and worry about those three top teams ahead.”
Spini’s attitude and expectations were exemplified on the back of freshman Risa Perez’s shirt. In big bold lettering it read, “Fear the Frosh.”
The team is hoping to leave the entire NCAA with this feeling.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction: An earlier version of this picture referred to the gymnast in the photo as sophomore Natasha Sunby. Based on information provided by Maggie Emmons the pictures is of a former ASU gymnast Madison Snowden and the photo has been updated to reflect the correct information.