The 2009 ASU gymnastics team is young, talented and ready to crack the top 10.
The Sun Devils feature only two competing seniors and one junior this season, while the rest of the squad is made up of five returning sophomores and seven freshmen.
John Spini, ASU’s longest tenured current head coach, has 29 years of experience as the head of Sun Devil’s gymnastics and will depend on his upperclassmen to carry the load.
“They need to be really involved in creating things for us,” Spini said.
Senior Tiana Jean will take over the reins as captain this season after a summer boating accident ended former captain Ashlee Hinkle’s gymnastics career.
Nicole Harris, a 2006 All-American and the only other senior on the roster, is returning to the team after leaving early last season because of personal reasons.
The only junior on the squad, Kaitlynn Bormann, is expected to lead the Sun Devils in both the bars and the beam.
It is not all up to the upperclassmen, as a host of sophomores will look to duplicate the success they enjoyed as freshmen.
The sophomore class will be led by two of the all-around talents, Francesca Mercurio and Beaté Jones.
Mercurio was named a Pac-10 Gymnast of the Week during last year’s campaign, and Jones scored a near-perfect 9.9 on vault to go along with four career-highs on the floor.
Skye Gentile and Mary Atkinson are both expected to contribute after missing parts of last season with injuries. Kentucky transfer Madison Snowden will redshirt because of an Achilles tendon injury.
Six of the seven freshmen will compete in specific events this season, attempting to develop what is anticipated to be a strong class.
Stephanie Hangartner, Kahoku Palafox and Amber Hammerschmidt should make immediate impacts, while Callie Price, Kelly Reilly and Ellen Gebhardt will eventually work their way into the lineup after polishing their raw talents.
Nicole Ferrandino will sit out the year rehabilitating an ACL injury.
“We have a very young team and we need to really scratch back into that top ten where we’ve always been except for the last two years,” Spini said.
The team will also feature two new assistant coaches in Jean-Luc Cairon and Jamie Dantzscher.
Cairon was a member of the French Olympic team in both 1984 and 1988, and he also holds three national titles.
Dantzscher competed in the 2000 Olympics and lead UCLA to three NCAA Championships in four years, while compiling a record 28 perfect tens.
Spini is hoping the coaches bring in great recruiting and can mentor the young squad.
The Sun Devils have a tough schedule this year with matches against six schools currently ranked in the top 25.
“[We need to] look clean, credible, hit routines and see if we can just get some decent scores to build us a little confidence for the end of the year,” Spini said.
The Sun Devils fell with a score of 194.475 to No. 10 Missouri (194.725) in their season opener at Wells Fargo Arena Friday night.
The Sun Devils had the lead heading into the final event, the floor routine, when two of the team’s normally consistent gymnasts faltered.
Jones and Jean scored 9.25 and 9.6, respectively, on the final event.
In the prior events of the night, both women were having strong performances. Jones scored a near-perfect 9.9 on vault, while Jean almost reached her career-high with a 9.725.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com.