Jan. 10, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
Coming off a solid season last year, head coach Doug Van Everen faces a tough challenge in 2012, starting with its season opener this Saturday when the Black Knights head to State University, Pa., to take on a Penn State team that is listed sixth in the preseason GymInfo poll.
It is the ninth straight year that Army, ranked 14th preseason, opens its season against the Nittany Lions, who placed sixth at last year's NCAA Championships. Penn State was also selected third in the Big Ten's preseason coaches' poll with junior Felix Aronovich and freshman Craig Hernandez named to the Gymnasts Watch List.
"In 2011, we turned in several top performances," said the Army mentor, "and for us to build upon that this season will be a challenge because of two unknowns."
Heading into the preseason, one of the unknowns was junior Kip Webber, a top competitor on still rings, vault (school-record holder) and floor exercise. Hopes of his return from medical leave for the second semester were instead extended into the spring semester.
"His loss is significant," noted Van Everen, "but we have to go forward. We have a talented group of veterans (11 returnees) and a solid freshman class that I am expecting to make a significant impact."
The other unknown depends upon who will be competing in each of the six events during the course of the season.
FLOOR EXERCISE: Senior Chase Brown, along with juniors Ikaika Jakub and Jared Breeden, sophomore Ian Howard and freshman Jeremy Cahill provide a solid nucleus. Brown, a 2010 NCAA qualifier and USAG All-American in the event, is Army's top returnee. He posted a career-best 14.6 and came close to recording that mark with a 14.5 in a first-place finish at the intra- squad meet in November.
Jakub, Breeden and Howard all turned in 14.0s last year on floor with the first two recording that mark in the dual finale vs. William & Mary.
At the annual intra-squad scrimmage, Breeden was third and Cahill's 14.4 earned him runner-up behind Brown.
Looking to break into Army's lineup is senior Zack Linton, whose personal-best 14.0 was recorded last year in a road meet at Springfield.
POMMEL HORSE: An event that boasts one of Van Everen's best pommel horse teams in several years with Garrek Hojan-Clark, team captain Jonathan Hoey and freshman Mike Tserkovnyuk setting the pace.
"All three are excellent and the remaining cast in this event should be able to provide us with a decent score which will definitely make a difference," stated Van Everen. "The remaining three spots are a tossup between Alex Ganz (freshman), Gregory Fearnley (junior), Andrew Avelino (sophomore) and Connor Venrick (freshman).
"Jon (Hoey) and Garrek (Hojan-Clark) are doing well and we have added difficulty to their routines this year. I feel the two of them will be going back and forth against each other all year long and should win just about every competition if they do what they are capable of. We beefed up Garrek's training and feel it will make it easier for him to hit clean in the tougher meets".
Hojan-Clark, a two-time NCAA qualifier and ECAC champion, ranked No. 4 in the country last year in this event. Army's school-record holder (15.1) and top scorer the past two years on the horse, he earned medalist honors in seven of eight dual matches in 2011 and was runner-up in the other at the USAG meet where he earned All-America honors. He will be looking to repeat as a conference champion along with advancing to the individual finals at the NCAAs.
Hoey has been a fixture on the horse the past three years, capturing the title at last year's West Point Open - just the eighth Black Knight to earn medalist honors. He headed into last year's NCAA meet ranked 36th on the horse and seeded fourth among the individual qualifiers.
Newcomer Tserkovnyuk placed second on the horse at the intra-squad scrimmage with a 13.5, trailing Hojan-Clark's winning mark by 2/10s of a point. Fearnley, who competed the past two years on the horse, placed fourth at the meet and Avelino, who was sidelined last year, finished seventh. Also in the mix is senior Zack Linton who is looking to break into the lineup after turning in solid scores last year.
STILL RINGS: The rings are an event rated among Army's strengths this year as Van Everen welcomed the return of a strong, more refined group led by junior Jared Breeden. Though losing the services of Kip Webber, Breeden's career-high 14.8 recorded at the USAG individual finals in a second-place finish that earned All-America honors listed tied for Army's third highest score in 2011.
Breeden earned a spot to the NCAAs where his 14.133 average listed third among the individual qualifiers. Alex Ganz (freshman), Nick Miles (sophomore), Nicholas Fettinger (junior), Ikaika Jakub (junior), and Connor Venrick (freshman) are expected to provide solid scores.
Fettinger's positional strength has improved tremendously the past year after competing in that event for the first time at the collegiate level last year. A regular in the lineup, Fettinger posted a career-high 13.4 at the USAG Championships.
Jakub, an NCAA qualifier as an all-arounder last year, just missed equaling his career-high 13.9 following a 13.8 showing in a triangular at Temple. Miles began competing last year on rings in the latter half of the season and adds solid depth along with Venrick, a Colorado State champion, and Ganz, who earned the silver at a regional meet.
VAULT: Though Army isn't as deep in this event, the Black Knights return three of last year's four top competitors in Chase Brown (senior), Jared Breeden (junior) and Ikaika Jakub (junior). Van Everen will look to this group and the newcomers to help make up for the loss of school record holder Kip Webber.
Brown scored the highest mark among the returnees in 2011, twice recording a personal-best 15.4 in home and road meets against Springfield. Breeden was close behind with a 15.3 authored in a road meet at Springfield, while Jakub also posted his personal-best 15.0 against the Pride.
Looking to provide not only depth but rank among the counting four are Nick Miles (sophomore), along with freshmen Alex Ganz and Connor Venrick.
PARALLEL BARS: The parallel bars are expected to be one of Army's strengths this season with the return of seniors Chase Brown and Brandon Long, along with juniors Nicholas Fettinger and Ikaika Jakub (junior). Joining that group are freshmen Mike Tserkovnyuk and Alex Ganz, the latter a California State champion and regional silver medalist.
Fettinger recorded Army's highest score with a 14.3 in a sixth-place showing in the prelims of the USAG Championships. Long tied for Army's second-highest score with a personal-best 14.2 that earned him medalist honors in a road meet at Springfield. Jakub, who posted a career-high 14.1 as a freshman, just missed scoring in the 14-point range last year.
At the annual intra-squad meet, Tserkovnyuk and Ganz tied for medalist honors, while Greg Fearnley (junior) placed fourth competing for the first time in that event.
HIGH BAR: Van Everen expects to be stronger on high bar with the return of seniors Jonathan Hoey and Chase Brown, who wrote last year's headline scoring Army's top marks of 13.9 and 13.7, respectively. Hoey recorded his in the prelims of the ECAC Championships and Brown turned in his career high in the prelims of the West Point Open and went on to place sixth in the individual finals.
Freshman Jeremy Cahill has shown promise in this event, having tied with Hoey for medalist honors during the intra-squad meet as both scored a 13.4. Sophomore Andrew Avelino has come on strong of late and is expected to make an impact.
ALL-AROUND: Army will look to junior Ikaika Jakub and freshman Alex Ganz in the all-around scoring. Jakub, who headed into last year's NCAA meet listed fifth among the all-arounders, posted a career-high 81.3 in the regular-season finale against William & Mary. Jakub and Ganz went one- two in all-around at the annual intra-squad scrimmage in November.
SCHEDULE: Army, picked 14th in the preseason GymInfo poll, ushers in 2012 opening against national powerhouse Penn State, ranked sixth in the preseason pool, for the ninth straight year. Van Everen expects to win a few events and see where that will take them. The Black Knights' regular season is highlighted by the annual West Point Open, the All-Academy Championships and nine dual matches in preparation for an ambitious postseason run.
Army will look to improve upon last year's third-place showing (just the fourth time it captured the bronze and first since 2004) when it hosts the 21st annual West Point Open (Jan. 27-28) at Christl Arena. The Black Knights face a challenging field that includes five-time defending champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions have captured 16 titles overall and will be the team to beat once again.
The first three meets in February are against service-academy rivals with Army heading to Annapolis, Md., for the annual "Star" match against Navy on Feb. 11. The Black Knights will be looking to rebound from last year's home loss to the Midshipmen in one of the closest matches in the history of the rivalry. A week later (Feb. 18) is the annual All-Academy Championships in San Jose, Calif., where the Black Knights will be in the thick of battle for their first title since 2007 when they take on Air Force and the Midshipmen.
Air Force's visit to West Point the following week (Feb. 24) highlights Army's home opener at Gross Sports Center as it looks to snap a four-match series losing skein to the Falcons in the first of four home duals over a five-match span. Two days later Army is back on the road with a visit to Springfield (Feb. 26).
Army makes is final preparation for the annual ECAC Championships when it opens a challenging slate in March. Temple, runner-up at last year's ECAC meet, has a pair of weekend matches at West Point starting Friday, March 2, with Springfield making it a triangular match Sunday (March 4) on Senior Day at Gross Sports Center. Army visits the Pride five days later (March 9).
The Black Knights close out their dual slate with a pair of weekend matches at William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., on March 15 and 17. Last year the teams battled to a 335.4 tie at West Point, just the sixth draw in school history and first since 1962.
Army heads to Philadelphia, Pa., for the ECAC Championships being hosted by Temple. Defending champion University of Chicago will look to retain the title for the fourth straight year along with earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The Owls took second last year followed by top seed William & Mary.
OVERVIEW: A solid veteran base and a strong freshman class that will be seasoned in time for the ECAC Championship should help Army make a run to finish in the upper half of the standings.
"I feel our scoring potential is higher than last year," noted Van Everen. "We have increased the difficulty for several of the returnees, coupled with an excellent freshman class, should provide top scores and depth in all six events."
Six gymnasts qualified individually for the NCAA Championships, Army's largest contingent since that number met the standard in 2006.
Garrek Hojan-Clark became the first Black Knight to claim an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference title since 2007 and first on pommel horse since 1999. He ranked No. 4 in the country heading into the NCAAs.
Army finished third at the West Point Open and Jonathan Hoey was crowned a champion on pommel horse- the first Black Knight to earn medalist honors since 2006.
Army closed out its dual meet schedule tying William & Mary in the season finale for just the sixth tie in school history and first since 1962.
Kip Webber (still rings and vault) and Hojan-Clark earned All-East honors at the ECAC Championships.
Garrek Hojan-Clark (pommel horse), Jared Breeden (still rings) and Chase Brown (floor exercise) earned USAG All-America certificates following their performances at the USA Gymnastics Men's National Collegiate Championships.