Four gymnasts compete at NCAA meet in Alabama

Reporter and Reporter

A school-record four BG gymnasts competed at the NCAA Regional Championships on Saturday, gaining valuable experience for the future.

Megan Harrington and Gina Locigno competed all-around for the Falcons, finishing low in the standings in their first NCAA Regionals appearances.

Harrington scored a 38.225 to finish in 18th place, hitting all four of her events. Her meet was highlighted by a rock-solid balance beam routine, earning her a 9.7 and a share of 24th place on the event.

Locigno started on a rough note, suffering two falls on her opening beam routine. She rebounded well on floor, covering a mistake and scoring 9.7. After a successful outing on the vault, Locigno dropped off the uneven bars in the final rotation. Her all-around score of 36.975 landed her last out of all competitors.

“I thought Megan Harrington really stepped up and competed well,” said coach Kerrie Beach. “Gina probably suffered the most with nerves, but I felt like it was such a good experience for her. She never gave up.”

Danielle Wishart competed in her second NCAA Regional, again qualifying to compete on vault. While opting not to compete a more difficult vault, Wishart still improved her score from a 9.7 in her freshman year to a 9.8, tying for 24th.

Jamilah Ali made her final appearance of the year on balance beam, an event that has earned her national recognition. Ali performed well below the standard she’s set for herself all season, wobbling to a score of 9.55 and 33rd place.

“As a freshman being in that environment, it was just really important for her to go out there and be able to handle the pressure,” Beach said. “Unfortunately she didn’t do one of her most solid routines like she’s done all season, but she really fought to stay on the beam.”

Beach and assistant coach Chad Wiest had their hands full during the meet, going back and forth across the arena to assist each of the four gymnasts, competing at separate times and in different rotations.

“It’s a different kind of stress,” Beach said. “It was definitely a little hectic and we were going for all six rotations, but at the end of the day we were able catch all the performances.”

Georgia (197.1) and Oregon State (196.45) earned team berths to NCAA Championships in Duluth, Ga. Individually, Michigan’s Katie Zurales (39.375) and Auburn’s Brianna Guy (39.35) won the all-around spots, while Auburn’s Kylie Shields and Michigan’s Joanna Sampson tied for the win on vault, scoring 9.925.

The competition marks the end of the 2012 season for BG gymnastics. While the team raised its average team score from 190.865 in 2011 to a 193.63 at the end of this year, it struggled with consistency and depth throughout the season.

Next season, the Falcons lose only one senior and welcome a talented freshman class, including standout gymnast Alyssa Nocella, a Nastia Liukin Cup qualifier in 2012.

Nocella, along with Katrina Carpenter, Caroline Ellingboe, and injured returner Gabi Swanson, will add much needed depth on the Falcons’ weakest event — the uneven bars.

Beach has made the goal for 2013 clear to her gymnasts: qualify a full team to the NCAA Regional Championships. To reach that milestone, the Falcons will have to end the 2013 season ranked within the top 36 teams in the nation. This season, BG gymnastics closed out at No. 48.

“We’ve got a lot of things in place now,” she said. “We’ve got a huge group of returners and a great coaching staff. We’re working on training at a higher level and adding more difficulty to the routines.

“I love that the athletes walked away from the Mid-American Conference Championship feeling no satisfaction. Their motivation level is at an all-time high and we have a huge plan for the upcoming year.”