Redhawks foursome to compete at NCAA regional

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Southeast gymnasts will try to earn spots in the national meet.

Southeast Missouri State gymnastics coach Tom Farden would rather be with his entire squad in Arkansas.

Farden had to settle for four of his athletes -- not that he's complaining.

Despite missing out on a team postseason berth, Southeast will be well represented at tonight's NCAA South Central Regional in Fayetteville, Ark.

"It's [tied for] the most athletes we've ever qualified individually," Farden said. "We're excited about that."

Southeast regional qualifiers are senior Sandra Blake and junior Rikara Turner in the all-around, along with sophomore Brianna Gaddie on floor and sophomore Christina Sundgren on bars.

"All four are very hard workers who had exceptional seasons," Farden said. "I'm very happy for them. It's a nice reward for doing so well."

The Redhawks just missed out on a team regional berth, which would have been their second straight and third in the past four years.

Southeast finished the regular season ranked 37th nationally with an average score of 194.565. Only the top 36 qualify. The final spots went to a pair of squads with averages of 194.625.

"Obviously we're disappointed we missed by such a small margin," Farden said. "But I've never had a better team on the floor, reflected by our 14-3 record and our average score that was a half-point higher than last year."

The four regional qualifiers played major roles in one of the program's best seasons.

Blake, a four-year regional qualifier, ranks among the premier gymnasts in school history. She is also an Academic All-American.

"The really enjoyable thing about Sandy, even though she was a star for us right out of the gates, she has continued to improve," Farden said. "She is one of the few gymnasts in the history of our program to have advanced to the regional as an individual or team member all four years."

Turner, a three-year regional qualifier, was named the 2009 Midwest Independent Conference gymnast of the year.

"Rikara has contributed so much," Farden said. "She and Sandy are our dynamic duo."

Gaddie and Sundgren both competed with the Redhawks at last year's regional.

"Brianna is just an absolute workhorse," Farden said. "Christina has scratched and clawed her way to where she is right now."

It will be difficult for any of the Redhawks to qualify for the national meet later this month in Lincoln, Neb., but Blake and Turner should have the best shots.

The top two all-around finishers not on an advancing team, along with event winners, make it to nationals.

Blake wasn't far off last year, earning a spot as an alternate for the national meet.

"Sandy was close last year. She and Rikara are doing the best gymnastics of their life right now," Farden said. "In the history of the program, we've never sent an individual to nationals. It would be quite an accomplishment."

No matter what happens tonight, Farden will be proud of his four regional qualifiers.

"For Sandy it's a great way to finish her career, and the good thing is the other three will be back next year," he said.

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