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2010 season recap: A roller coaster ride for gymnastics

THE RIDE IS OVER: The ASU gymnastics team had its share of ups and downs this season, entering the top 25 in February but losing its final three matches and finishing last at the Pac-10 Championships. The Sun Devils did make their 29th straight regional appearance. (Photo by Scott Stuk)
THE RIDE IS OVER: The ASU gymnastics team had its share of ups and downs this season, entering the top 25 in February but losing its final three matches and finishing last at the Pac-10 Championships. The Sun Devils did make their 29th straight regional appearance. (Photo by Scott Stuk)

Roller coasters are far too often used to summarize a sports team’s season.

Every group has its ups and downs.

Wins and losses always come. Failure is usually matched with success.

But for the 2010 ASU women’s gymnastics team, its’ drastic climb to elite performance, followed by a sudden of drop-off, can only be described as a Tower of Terror-like ride.

The ride up

The Sun Devils opened their season at the Lady Luck Invitational in Las Vegas, receiving three lop-sided losses against ranked opponents in then-No. 13 Missouri, No. 12 Kentucky, and No. 16 Louisiana State.

Four gymnasts made their Sun Devil debuts that night. Only one scored higher than a 9.700 on any routine.

Just two days later, ASU salvaged the weekend with its first win of the season over the hapless California Golden Bears, 192.825-191.800. Cal remained winless up until its last meet of the season.

After showing signs of improvement in two losses against two top-20 teams in UA and UCLA, the Sun Devils began a stretch of gymnastics that was just about as perfect as they could do.

Longtime rival Utah brought the first match of ASU’s stellar run.

For the first time in two years, the Sun Devils were not forced to count a fall in their score.

Despite the 195.700-196.475 loss, the team’s competitive performance bumped ASU into the national rankings at No. 25.

The following week in Seattle, ASU used its momentum to capture a 195.650-195.425 victory over then-No. 24 Washington.

Finally, against then-No. 8 Stanford, the young Sun Devil gymnasts put together all they had into one flawless night.

On each of the team’s first three rotations, one gymnast fell, leaving the ensuing gymnast with added pressure not to follow suit.

And so one by one, without fail, each gymnast put down clutch routine after clutch routine. The night, and perhaps even the season, climaxed with a perfect six-for-six showing on floor, tallying the team’s highest total on any event this season with a 49.275.

Unfortunately, the score just wasn’t quite good enough, as the Cardinal pulled away with a 196.675-195.900 win.

However, if one didn’t know any better, one would think ASU had won. The team was enthralled with its performance, and wasn’t afraid to show it.

Crashing down

Riding so high, nobody foresaw what would happen next.

The Sun Devils put together three consecutive 150.000-plus scores, but were about to start a rough streak.

From this point on, ASU would count a fall in all of its remaining meets.

Against then-No. 7 Oregon State, ASU was never close in a 194.650-196.925 loss.

Next up was unranked Central Michigan. The Sun Devils gave away the lead after two rotations when three gymnasts fell off the balance beam, relegating ASU to a meet-losing score of 47.625 on the event.

The loss dropped the Sun Devils out of the top 25, a distinction ASU would never regain.

After finishing third in a tri-meet behind then-No. 22 Boise State and Brigham Young, ASU finished the regular season in historic fashion at the Pac-10 Championships in Tucson.

Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, it was historically bad fashion.

The team scored a 190.657 and finished dead last at the event — giving Cal its aforementioned first win of the season.

It was the poorest showing by an ASU squad in over a decade.

ASU coach John Spini said after the meet that he had never put a team on the mat that did so badly.

Fortunately, the Sun Devils received a bid to the NCAA West Regional in Los Angeles as one of the top 36 teams in the nation, extending the school’s NCAA appearance streak to 29.

Once there, the squad finished in fifth place with a score of 193.900, well behind the two schools that qualified for nationals, UCLA and Arkansas.

Miss Mary

The bright spot all year for the Sun Devils was the outstanding individual effort of junior Mary Atkinson.

The Second Team All-Pac-10 gymnast won four all-around titles during this year.

Atkinson consistently tallied wins over highly-ranked opponents, including then-No. 4 Mandi Rodriguez of Oregon State.

Her best outing, however, came in a loss.

Against Stanford, Atkinson put up a career-high 39.500 all-around total encompassing three 9.900’s and a career-best 9.800 on the balance beam.

Last week, the junior capped off her stellar season by qualifying for the NCAA National Championships on April 22-24.

Outlook for 2011

“I think next year is our big turnaround year,” Spini said. “Getting back to nationals next year will very much depend on our health again. If you add [injured junior] Beate Jones, who was an outstanding athlete last year, and Mary on the same floor doing the same job they’re used to doing, that will be huge.”

Another year of experience for this season’s young squad will likely soothe some of the nerves that consistently plagued ASU so much in 2010.

The team’s only graduating senior is Kaitlynn Bormann.

Look for the Sun Devils to be back with a vengeance.

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