The Rutgers gymnastics team enters the 2004 season aided by the return of 18 letterwinners and the influx of eight talented newcomers. It becomes easy to see why head coach Chrystal Chollet-Norton has high expectations as she enters her 18th year “on the Banks.”
The Scarlet Knights' top returning gymnast is senior co-captain Caitlin Wight, who was named the Northeast region's alternate for floor and beam at the NCAA Regional Championship. She was named to the All-EAGL Floor second team after leading the Scarlet Knights with a 9.810 regional qualifying score (RQS), also carrying a beam RQS of 9.755. A member of the EAGL All-Academic squad, she had the Scarlet Knights' top finish on floor at the EAGL Championship (March 28), scoring a 9.775 to tie for 20th.
“Caitlin’s strong and consistent tumbling on both beam and floor will make her a major factor to our success on those events,” said Chollet-Norton. “She also leads by example through her positive work ethic.”
Teammate Lisa Abrams will also serve as a co-captain. Abrams was the NCAA Regional individual qualifier on beam and earned second-team All-EAGL Beam honors.
“Lisa’s atristry, incredible presence, consistency and regional experience will make her a strong anchor of our beam team line-up,” said Chollet-Norton.
Rutgers has a strong junior class this winter, headlined by Sveta Shterenberg. An All-EAGL All-Around Second Team selection, she qualified for the 2003 NCAA Northeast Regional in the all-around. She was part of the beam rotation that broke the school record three times last season.
“High skill levels on bars, beam and floor, along with her regional experience, will make Sveta one of the top competitors in those three events,” said Chollet-Norton.
While the Scarlet Knights struggled at times in this event last year, Chollet-Norton feels Rutgers will be much improved in 2004. Sophomores Erin Lynch and Jamye Shelton were slated to form the core of the unit before Lynch went down with a knee injury during the preseason. Shelton has a strong front handspring front vaults and will be the leader in RU's vault line up. Nicci Bradder, who saw limited action in the vaulting line up, is expected to step up and add additional experience to the line up. Newcomers to the line up include Lorena Johnson, who has an excellent layout tusk vault that matches former standout Courtney Turner. Other top freshman that should see the vaulting line up includes Beth Fittery, Jackie Campbell, and Casey Santagilo. Other team members who are expected to contribute to the line up includes Kelly Straka, Gina Roselle, and Alexis Lehy.
“Jayme will once again be our top vaulting specalist,” said Chollet-Norton. “Her dynamic handspring front will be our best vault. We will also see her in the floor lineup.”
Typically one of the Scarlet Knights' strongest events, Chollet-Norton expects this season to be no different. Rutgers has five of its top competitors returning for the 2004 season, despite the graduation of Kristen Marion and Kamla Modi. To ease those losses, Rutgers added freshman Beth Fittery and Lorena Johnson, who are expected to make an immediate impact. The core of the team centers around a strong junior class, which includes Sveta Sheternberg, Stephanie Zick, Marinelle Antiono, Nicci Bradder and Tracy Heckler. Sheternberg was an NCAA Northeast Regional qualifier last season as well as an All-EAGL selection. All five are will add experience and depth to the uneven bars line up.
The beam team will once again be Rutgers' strongest event. Last year, the Scarlet Knights broke the school beam record three times. The entire unit from 2003 returns intact, and several strong freshmen will make it Rutgers' deepest event. Returning to the line up are seniors Caitlin Wight and Lisa Abrams, both of whom were NCAA Northeast Regional qualifiers. Other strong competitors on the beam are Laura Iepson, Sveta Shterneberg, Nicci Bradder, Marinell Antoino, Stephanie Zick and Gina Roselle. Newcomers to this event include Casey Stangelo, Lorenna Johnson, Beth Fittery and Shari Evans.
“I’m very encouraged with this group,” said Chollet-Norton. “Laura is back in the gym and training after coming off a back injury. Nicci is coming off a great fall preseason and showing a lot of consistency on all four events. Marinelle’s beautiful syle and artistry on beam and bars will add depth to both those events.”
Chollet-Norton expects the floor team will be one to watch. Rutgers did not lose anyone to graduation, and Wight figures to be RU's most steady performer. Other top performers will be Sveta Shterenberg, who was an all around competitor at the NCAA Northeast Regionals, Nicci Bradder, Stephanie Zick, Jennifer Miksan, Janice Blackistone, and Jamye Shelton. This team will also rely on newcomers Lorena Johnson, Beth Fittery, Casey Stangelo, Kelly Straka and Shari Evans to add the extra depth to this event.
“Jenny has been one of our major factors on floor for the past two seasons,” said Chollet-Norton. “Her experience and consistency will once again be a great help to the floor team in 2004. I think we’ll get good contributions from other underclassmen and develop some nice depth in this event.”
As usual, Rutgers will play a challenging schedule in 2004 that features home meets with New Hampshire, Temple and Southern Connecticut. The season opens on Saturday, Jan. 10, when the Scarlet Knights entertain defending EAGL champion New Hampshire. A road trip to Towson follows a week later, and then RU returns home to face Temple on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Four of the Scarlet Knights' next five meets are on the road, as RU travels to James Madison (Jan. 24), Pittsburgh to face the Panthers and Cornell (Feb. 7) and North Carolina. The lone home meet in Jan. 31 against Southern Connecticut. On Saturday, Feb. 28, Maryland, Temple and Bridgeport visit the Livingston Recreation Center in a tri-meet. The following weekend will take Rutgers to Ithaca, NY, to face Cornell and Western Michigan. The final home meet of the 2004 season follows on March 13 when Rutgers hosts North Carolina, Ursinus and Cortland. This year's EAGL Championships will take place in Pittsburgh, PA, on Saturday, March 20.
“I’m truly excited about this season,” said Chollet-Norton. “The EAGL will be tough as always, but the girls have worked very hard and I think it will pay off once the season starts. We have three great seniors and we want to send them out with a fantastic season.”