Future of ASU gymnastics bright despite ongoing coaching search

Sophomore Carissa Kraus runs down the vault runway during a home meet against BYU on Feb. 15. (Photo by Arianna Grainey) Sophomore Carissa Kraus runs down the vault runway during a home meet against BYU on Feb. 15. (Photo by Arianna Grainey)

With the 2014 season that assistant coach Tom Ward said “exceeded expectations” now over, ASU gymnastics turns the page to a new era.

A team that was not expected to compete in the tough Pac-12 championships did just that, beating strong programs in Cal, Washington and Arizona. The season ended in Arkansas, as ASU took fourth place at the regional championship.

“We’re still young but have a lot of experience. I think next year we’ll be considered an experienced team with a lot of talent coming in," Ward said.

Looking ahead to 2015, ASU will return 22 of its 24 routines from 2014. Those two routines that will be lost were from senior Sammie Seaman, who will be graduating in May. Her veteran leadership will be missed, but Ward expects the three incoming seniors (Natasha Sundby, Morgan Steigerwalt, Brianna Gades) to step in and bring a strong sense of collective leadership.

“I think all three of the upcoming seniors will share that leadership role,” Ward said. “They’re a tight group and really talented and driven. We’ll expect them to lead the team.”

One of the prominent stories from the 2014 season was the emergence of freshmen Beka Conrad, Gilly Hogue and Savannah Borman. Conrad competed on every event, performing all-around four times. Hogue was an integral part of the early success for ASU, as she excelled on vault and balance beam, but an Achilles injury in warmups before a tri-meet at Oregon State ended her season.

Stepping in her place was Borman, who hadn’t previously competed but when she was called upon performed well. Hogue is fully expected to be ready for the 2015 season.

Kellie Wanamaker is another freshman who will be expected to pitch in next year. Because of injury, she never had the chance to have as much of an impact as her fellow freshmen.

“Wanamaker is someone who will definitely be an impact player next year,” Ward said. “She came in after a surgery last year and ended up having to have another one to fix the screws in her knee. So she never really got going, but she’s very talented.”

Seven sophomores from the 2014 team will aim to return next year as juniors, many of whom have two years of heavy competition time under their belts. Carissa Kraus, Kristine Levin, Allie Salas, Risa Perez, Stephanie Miceli and Kristine Levin all provided consistent strong performances for ASU in 2014, and before a concussion ended her season, Erin Hamister specialized on vault for the team.

“The up-and-coming junior class is very strong and experienced, so we’ll expect them to provide leadership as well as the seniors,” Ward said.

The biggest question mark headed into next season will be regarding the head coaching position. With John Spini departing after 34 years at the helm of ASU gymnastics, it will continue to be an interesting storyline as to who will be selected to take over the reins. Co-head coach Maggie Ethier is a plausible person to be tabbed for the job, but ASU may also look outside the program for Spini’s successor.

As far as recruitment goes, ASU has not signed anyone yet to a letter of intent, but space is limited with only Seaman departing the team.

With all the talent and experience returning next year, expectations are high for ASU.

“Next year, there are two things we expect to accomplish: be a top three team in the Pac-12 and compete once again for a national championship,” Ward said.

Reach the reporter stheodor@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @shane_writes

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