Jan. 8, 2014
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Army's gymnastics team ushers in its 24th season under head coach Doug Van Everen Saturday when it heads to University Park, Pa., to take on perennial powerhouse Penn State in Rec Hall at 7 p.m. It is the 11th straight year that Army and Penn State meet in the season opener.
Penn State, coming off an undefeated regular-season last year, heads into 2014 ranked fifth in the College Gymnastics Association's preseason top-15 national coaches poll, while Army lists 15th.
The Nittany Lions, who finished fourth at last year's NCAA Championships, return six All-Americas. Leading that contingent is sophomore Trevor Howard, who posted a career-best 15.8 to claim Penn State's first NCAA individual title on floor exercise in 50 years.
Van Everen feels that the Army-Penn State meet at the start of the season presents a tough challenge for his team, but with all four classes solid, the Black Knights could surprise as they will have more muscle in each event.
"I am confident we are going to do well against Penn State," said Van Everen. "The meet is early, but it gives us an opportunity to go out and compete before the West Point Open (Jan. 17-18).
"I feel that our top guys are just as good as theirs," continued Van Everen, "but the difference between the programs is that I have two to three on most events and Penn State has six, but I feel our gymnasts are just as good."
Twelve letterwinners return for Army, led by senior captain Nick Miles, along with a talented crop of six freshmen ready to make their presence felt immediately. The Black Knights finished runner-up at their West Point Open (equaling their highest finish at this event in 22 years), took second at the All-Academy Championships, defeated Navy and finished fifth at the ECAC Championships, along with two members of the squad qualifying for the NCAAs, in 2013.
Senior Kip Webber, who has qualified three times for the NCAAs, twice as an all-arounder and once on floor exercise, will be looking to cap his senior year as an ECAC champion (last year he shared the all-around title) and All-American.Twice he has reached the preliminary round of the NCAAs, but came up short of advancing to the individual finals in his bid to earn All-America honors.
The top returnees among the junior class are Jeremy Cahill, Mike Tserkovnyuk, Alex Ganz and Connor Venrick with Jesse Glenn, Chris Short and Michael York the leaders among the sophomore class.
Glenn was spectacular in his first season compiling an impressive resume as a highly touted all-arounder who was among Army leaders in several meets, to include competing at the Winter Cup Challenge. An injury late in the season denied him from earning postseason honors at the ECAC Championships and NCAAs.
Complimenting the returnees is another exceptional freshman class with Sam Kusnitz, Leo Genders and Joe Pritts top challengers for spots in the lineup.
"Having Jesse back in the lineup in six events will be a game changer for us," noted Van Everen. "He is one of our top performers in floor exercise vault, high bar and parallel bars. Right up there with him is Kip, who will concentrate on floor exercise, still rings, vault and parallel bars."
Van Everen feels that Army's floor exercise and vault teams are the best "he has ever coached. We have a lot of degree of difficutlty, and it will be exciting."
Leading the way is Webber, the school record-holder in floor exercise (15.05) and vault (16.1), who recorded Army's top scores in each last year with Glenn among the leaders in both along with Cahill in floor. Also solid on floor exercise are senior Ian Howard and Pritts in making this one of Army's strongest events, while in the wings are freshman Josh Glenn, Short and sophomore Joe Frullaney. Webber's top mark of 15.3 on vault last year earned him medalist honors in a triangular meet with Stanford and Springfield and weekly national honors.
Parallel bars is an improved event due to the degree of difficulty, Army's highest in several years. Tserkovnyuk joins Glenn and Webber in providing top scores with newcomer Jacob Davis adding solid routines and depth. Short turned in Army's top score of 14.7 last year with Webber and Glenn ranking among the top five scorers.
The most improved event is high bar, which in the past was an area of concern. Glenn posted Army's top two marks last year with Short and sophomore Michael York rounding out the top five scores. Also in the mix are Genders, Kusnick, and Cahill.
Pommel horse is not as strong as last year with the graduation of two-time ECAC champion Garrek Hojan-Clark, who ranked among the nation's leaders all four years. Leading that group is Glenn, Venrick, Tserkovnyuk, senior Andrew Avelino along with York, Short and newcomer Zack Mancini.
Still rings is stronger than last year with newcomers Pritts and Jacob Davies providing depth for Webber (who had the top five marks last in 2013) and Glenn, with Short, Ganz (once he is off the injury list) and Miles looking to contribute.
"Our goal this year is to win our conference, and I feel we have everything it takes to win," concluded Van Everen. "We are going to have to hit our routines, but I feel we can pull it all together as this is one of the best teams we have had since we last won the conference title in 2005."