Jan. 11, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. - -
Army head gymnastics coach Doug Van Everen is talented and deep in all four classes with 13 returning lettermen and an outstanding freshman class (ranked among his finest) that will be tested in Saturday night's season-opening meet (7 p.m.) against Penn State at Rec Hall in University Park, Pa.
This is the 10th straight year that Army ushers in its season against the perennial powerhouse Nittany Lions. Penn State is coming off a third-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships with seven earning All-America honors. In addition, 19 members of the team competed at the 2012 Olympic Games, and this year's squad was picked third in the Big Ten preseason poll.
Last year Army turned in its highest season-opening performance in four years in spite of suffering a 349.8-321.6 loss to Penn State, but Van Everen is looking for a closer meet this year along with a few winners. The Black Knights had a team scrimmage last week and the scores put up were impressive.
"Not only are we going to win in 2013, but we are going to shine in every event, and will definitely turn heads this season," said Van Everen as he heads into his 23rd season at the helm. "Our scoring potential is higher than it has been in several years because we are stronger and deeper in a majority of the events. Not only have several of our veterans increased their degree of difficulty, but we brought in one of the finest freshmen in the history of the program in Junior Olympic National member Jesse Glenn, an all-arounder, and Junior Olympic qualifier Chris Short. "
Seven NCAA Qualifiers are among Army's 13 returning lettermen, and senior Garrek Hojan-Clark has ranked among the nation's leaders on pommel horse since meeting the standard in his signature event the past three years.
Also highlighting the returnees are team captain Ikaika Jakub and classmate Jared Breeden, who qualified the past two years for the NCAAs, while also meeting the standard last year were senior Nicholas Fettinger with sophomores Alex Ganz, Jeremy Cahill and Mike Tserkovnyuk. A total of nine Black Knights (to include two who graduated) qualified individually for last year's NCAAs as Army sent its largest contingent since 12 met the criteria in 2003.
The return of two-time NCAA Qualifier Kip Webber from medical leave is an added bonus as well. Webber met the NCAA standard as an all-arounder in 2011 and advanced to the preliminary round on vault and floor exercise.
There is a change in the team scoring system this year, one that Van Everen feels will benefit Army. At the start of the season, six gymnasts will compete in an event with five scores counting where before four counted. Then on March 1, it will change again with five competing and all five scores counting.
"The new system puts a lot of pressure on everyone," notes Van Everen, but it will help us. "West Point places demands on a cadet that puts them in a position to accomplish the task at hand. There are no gimmies or mulligan's, so it will change the dynamics once we head into March, which is also is the month for conference championships. "
The top five gymnasts on floor exercise are solid in senior veterans Jared Breeden and Ikaika Jakub, junior Kip Webber, sophomore Jeremy Cahill and freshman Jesse Glenn. Webber competed on floor exercise at the NCAAs in 2010 and 2011, reaching the prelims in the latter.
Senior Garrek Hojak-Clark has been Army's pommel horse specialist since his freshman year. The school record-holder in that event (15.4), Hojan-Clark headed into last year's NCAA Qualifier ranked eighth nationally with a 14.75 average that listed second among the six qualifiers. He was among just a handful of gymnasts last year to crack the 15-point range.
Army has four solid competitors in this event with sophomore Mike Tserkovnyuk (who qualified last year for the NCAAs), and freshmen Jesse Glenn and Connor Venrick complementing Hojan-Clark. Senior Greg Fearnley, junior Andrew Avelino, sophomores Alex Ganz and freshman Chris Short will be vying for the final two spots.
This event is exceptionally strong with a solid trio in junior Kip Webber, freshmen Jesse Glenn and Connor Ezell, supported by seniors Ikaika Jakub and Jared Breeden, sophomore Alex Ganz and newcomer Chris Short.
Army will be strong and deep and be able to field six exceptional athletes. Leading that group is school record-holder (16.1) Kip Webber, coming back from medical leave. He joins lettermen Jeremy Cahill, Nicholas Fettinger, Jared Breeden, Ikaika Jakub and Alex Ganz, along with freshman Jesse Glenn. Jakub recorded Army's top mark of 14.4 last year.
This event takes on a significant upgrade with the addition of freshman Jesse Glenn, who is capable of putting up top scores, along with classmate Chris Short. They will be joined by 2012 NCAA individual qualifiers Nicholas Fettinger and Alex Ganz, along with Ikaika Jakub who participated in this event as an all-arounder in 2011.
Freshman Jesse Glenn will lead the way in an event considered weakest among the six team competitions, but it is stronger than it has been in several years. Letterman Jeremy Cahill, an NCAA Qualifier last year and the top returning scorer (13.8), will be among the regulars once again. Letterman Alex Ganz and freshman Chris Short bring an array of skills to the lineup, while the biggest surprise could be senior Garrek Hojan-Clark.
Alex Ganz was Army's lone all-arounder last year and will be among a trio this year led by freshman Jesse Glenn and classmate Chris Short. Glenn captured the all-around title with an 82.7 at the annual Black & Gold meet after finishing among the top two in five of the six events.
Army will be competing in eight dual meets with four home matches at Gross Sports Center, highlighted by Navy and Stanford University, along with the annual West Point Open and the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships
Five seniors provide a strong presence in the gymnasium to a talented group of juniors, sophomores and freshmen as they look to look to leave their mark in Army's history annals.
The Black Knights will be tested early with the first two road meets of the season against NCAA participant Penn State followed by a trip to Air Force.
Army looks to post its first winning season since 2007 and expects to ride that momentum into the postseason where the Black Knights are looking to capture the ECAC title along with earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Championships the first day, and crown a champion or two the final day.
The NCAA Championships provide a tough challenge as the top of the 12 teams in the country receive a berth to the Qualifier. Van Everen, who had nine Black Knights qualify individually last year, feel this year's team has the talent to challenge for All-America honors on pommel horse, rings, vault and all-around.
It is a duable goal for a team talented in all four classes, highlighted by a freshman class that boasts one of the top recruits in the country, as Van Everen looks to lead the Black Knights back into the national spotlight.