On Friday, a new era of ASU gymnastics begins.
Longtime ASU coach John Spini retired after 34 years, giving way for Rene Lyst (previously co-head coach at Arkansas) to step into the challenge of replacing the legend.
For the team, changing coaches signifies a monumental shift in leadership given what Spini has meant to the program.
“It’s been a lot of change and they’ve been handling it very well," Lyst said. "They’re working hard. They can see all the hard work is paying off with their preparation and so I’m excited to now get to the next step."
Lyst helped build Arkansas from its inception in 2003. It took a couple years, but her teams consistently competed on a national stage. Arkansas made seven NCAA championship appearances while she was there, including two Super Six appearances.
At ASU, Lyst gets to run her own program for the first time. She will attempt to bring ASU back to national prominence, after the team had slipped in recent years. The Sun Devils have just one NCAA top-10 finish in the last decade, after 17 of them from 1982-2004.
“I think this program in the past was one of the top programs in the country and I think that’s the potential of this program and to be able to come in and make that happen myself with this program is a great challenge and really exciting," Lyst said. "I think the potential is unlimited and we’re going to push to be back at the national championships and be one of the top programs in the country.”
ASU was picked to finish last of eight teams in the Pac-12, but the conference is stacked. The other seven conference foes are ranked in the GymInfo Coaches' preseason poll – UCLA (5), Utah (6), Stanford (10), Oregon State (11), California (14), Arizona (21) and Washington (24). ASU garnered receiving votes in the poll.
ASU’s expected top players this season are senior Natasha Sundby (career 9.81 floor average and 9.75 vault at ASU) and Utah transfer Taylor Allex (9.79 vault average at Utah). Allex only vaulted at Utah in 2013, but has competed as an all-around as a Level 10 gymnast.
One interesting tidbit about ASU in 2015: there are no freshmen on the team.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Lyne said of having no freshmen. “There’s not one person on this team I recruited, so when I got here this was the team that was here. It’s definitely a unique situation, but it is what it is, we have who we have and everybody’s participating, everybody’s doing a great job and I look forward to seeing that grow.”
ASU begins the season on Friday at 7 p.m. against Southern Utah at Wells Fargo Arena.
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