Farden stresses academics as much as athletics

Thursday, January 17, 2008
Jena Nguyen, from left, Sandra Blake, Rikara Turner and Bryanna Wong are the returning members of the gymnastics team who qualified for the NCAA South Central Regional in Tucson, Ariz., last year. (Kit Doyle)

Southeast won the academic national championship with a 3.74 team GPA last year.

For Southeast Missouri State women's gymnastics coach Tom Farden, season success is not based solely on how the Redhawks fare during their athletic competitions.

He wants his team to also excel academically, which is always one of the Redhawks' primary goals.

"We always recruit young ladies who are not only strong athletically, but also academically," Farden said. "You want to be athletically and academically successful."

Under Farden, who begins his fifth season in charge of the Redhawks with Friday's 7 p.m. home meet against Kentucky, Southeast has been able to succeed in both areas.

Southeast posted a 17-9 record last season, was No. 22 nationally at one point for the program's highest ranking in more than a decade and qualified four gymnasts for NCAA regional competition.

The Southeast Missouri State gymnastics team stretched before media day Friday at their Parker Hall facility in Cape Girardeau. (Kit Doyle)

Just as important to Farden, the 2007 Redhawks attained one of their major goals by being academic national champions, according to the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women.

Southeast earned the award by compiling a team grade-point average of 3.74, which topped the nation.

The year before, the Redhawks were fifth in the academic standings while earning a team regional berth for the first time since 1997.

"That was a big goal of ours, to become academic national champions," Farden said. "We've got great student-athletes, and a lot of them are in very tough majors."

Two of Southeast's big goals for this season are to again have the nation's best GPA and to return to the NCAA regionals as a group.

"It's tough to make it [to regionals]. Only the top 36 teams in the country go," Farden said. "But that's always been our goal, and I definitely feel we can get back there.

"Last year we were ranked 36th going into the last week, and that was with a depleted roster of eight. But we tied our program record by sending four individuals to regionals. To get four out of eight, we were real happy with that."

Farden believes better depth will help the Redhawks overcome potential injuries, which hampered them last season.

Southeast has a 17-athlete roster, including 11 returning gymnasts and six freshmen.

The four returning regional qualifiers are led by junior Sandra Blake, who was also a top performer on the 2006 team that qualified for regionals.

"Getting back to regionals [as a team] is a big goal," Blake said. "We have a lot more depth and everybody is looking pretty good right now."

Other regional qualifiers from last year are sophomores Jena Nguyen, Rikara Turner and Bryanna Wong.

"To have three freshmen make regionals last year was awesome. It doesn't happen very often," Farden said.

Other returning gymnasts are lone senior Alison Ezell; juniors Jennifer Dinan, Maureen Grimaldi and Starlyn Schwartz (who returns from an injury); and sophomores Amber Garlotte, Jacqueline Heath and Kelley Krengiel.

"I'm excited. Being my last year, I want to make it a really good one," Ezell said. "Regionals is always our goal, and I think we have a good chance."

Farden is counting on contributions from freshmen Lauren Dinan, Brianna Gaddie, Kara Gibbons, Erica Moore, Amanda Schoenbaum and Christina Sundgren.

"It's a very good freshmen class," Farden said. "Four of them are already in our regular rotation."

Farden is excited about a schedule that features six home meets, including dates with nationally ranked Missouri and Kentucky. Iowa also visits Houck Field House.

"Missouri is a perennial top 10 team and Kentucky is a top 25 team," Farden said. "I feel pretty honored to have a Big 12, Big 10 and SEC school coming here."

Noteworthy

* Southeast's sixth annual benefit luncheon will be at noon Saturday at Outback Steakhouse. The cost is $20 per person, or $30 for two people.

All proceeds benefit the gymnastics program. For information, call Farden at 651-2604.

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