Gymnasts have positive outlook for EMU meet

It?s a new year with a new attitude for the Bowling Green State gymnastics team.

At first glance, a 4-14 overall record and a 2-4 Mid-American Conference record compiled last season, along with the addition of eight freshmen makes the 2004 campaign look like a reconstruction job.

Even though BG did not experience the abundance of success they have grown accustomed to over the years, eighth-year head coach and team conscience Dan Connelly has the peace of mind to believe things will be different this time around.

Not to mention the talent.

?I think the attitude is great?we?re relatively healthy and very positive,? Connelly said. ?As far as talent, this is the most talented team I?ve had but talent is only one aspect. I think team chemistry and how well they relate to each other will be the most key factor.?

The Falcons, who finished fourth in the MAC Championships with a season-high 195.175 team score, were picked to finish third among the seven schools that compete in gymnastics.

Kent State was tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the MAC regular-season title, while Central Michigan was picked to repeat as MAC Champion.

Connelly, who has been named Coach of the Year three times during his tenure at BG, said this is the first time the Falcons have been picked to finish higher than fifth.

?I really don?t pay much attention to the preseason polls, but it is exciting to see that we are regarded as one of the top three teams in the conference,? he said. It just shows that they have noticed that we have consistently put together a talented team each year.?

Leading the Falcons this season are senior co-captains Melissa Popovich and Pia Sjovall, and senior Kelly Kropko.

?Coming off of last year I don?t think too many people expect much, but we just know we have the ability to do well as we did the year before last,? Popovich said.

BG also has a trio of juniors that include Breanne Metzger, Kari Elste and Kristin DiPietro; followed by a talented sophomore group, comprised of Melissa Bruch, Jessica Bradley, Marie-Eve Boisvert, Erin McCollam and Jessica Guyer. Guyer will miss tonight?s meet with a shoulder injury.

?We have real good leadership in our upperclassmen and I think they like the feeling they had two years ago when we won the MAC Championship and I think they want it back,? Connelly said about the juniors and seniors.

?They have communicated that well to the younger people and I just think our returnees have a much more positive outlook, compared to last year at this time.?

The three freshmen Connelly expects to make an immediate impact are Bethany Kenel, Jillian Stranges and Sakura Tomita.

Erin Coudriet, Jessica McArther, Allison Swafford and Karly Yohe complete the freshman class.

?I think the leadership we have from the upperclassmen will be key, but I think how well the freshmen develop and perform is going to be the deciding factor as to whether we?re going to be an excellent team,? Connelly said. ?We?re going be a really good team, but if we?re going to be an excellent team it?s going to fall on the shoulders of the freshmen.?

?Our expectations are just to go out there and do our best and not really concentrate on winning that much,? Sjovall said. ?I think that?s what we did last year because we did so well in 2002, but our main focus is to go out and do what we?ve been doing in practice and have fun.?The start is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Eppler Center Gymnasium, and this will be the first of five meets hosted by the Falcons this season.