Southeast Missouri State gymnastic team has NCAA regional in sights

Monday, March 7, 2011
Southeast Missouri State sophomore Margaret O'Neal performs on the uneven bars Sunday during a dual meet against Centenary College at Houck Field House. O'Neal won the event with a 9.875. (Laura Simon)

The four seniors on the Southeast Missouri State gymnastics team would love to finish their careers with an NCAA regional berth.

Southeast took major strides toward that goal over the weekend.

The Redhawks celebrated Senior Day with Sunday's 193.925-191.825 win over Centenary College at Houck Field House.

That came on the heels of Southeast's highest road score of the season, a 194.675 during Friday's second-place finish at the Missouri quad.

"We're really hopeful," senior Christina Sundgren said of a regional berth. "The meet Friday is a big help."

Southeast Missouri State's Margaret O'Neal, left, receives a hug from teammate Emily Mann after her winning routine on the uneven bars Sunday at Houck Field House.

The Redhawks entered the weekend ranked 37th nationally and in need of another strong road score. The top 36 teams qualify for an NCAA regional.

Southeast coach Kristi Ewasko, whose squad fell just short of a regional berth during her first season last year, said the performance at Missouri bumped the Redhawks up to 35th with two meets remaining.

"We definitely needed that away score," senior Brianna Gaddie said. "I feel like this weekend really helped us. We just have to keep pushing."

Southeast last qualified its entire team for regionals in 2008, but four-year standouts Gaddie and Sundgren have been no strangers to regional competition.

Gaddie qualified for regionals on floor the past two seasons, while Sundgren was a regional qualifier on bars two years ago before being an alternate in 2010.

Both are having impressive seasons and in line to earn individual regional berths if the entire squad doesn't qualify.

"Those two have definitely been some of our top gymnasts, in the record books," Ewasko said.

Gaddie has won 36 career individual meet titles. She ranks fifth on the program's all-time vault list with a 9.9 and is seventh on floor with a 9.925.

"It's been a great career, all the things we've done, all the accomplishments," Gaddie said.

Gaddie and the other seniors, along with their parents, were recognized following the meet. "Today was fun. It was exciting, but a little nerve wracking," Gaddie said.

Sundgren has 13 career bars titles. Her personal-best score of 9.9 in the event ranks third all-time at Southeast.

"It's just a blessing," Sundgren said of her time at Southeast.

Senior Jacqueline Heath's career has been hampered by injury that caused her to redshirt last year. She has not seen much action this season but still ranks third on the program's all-time bars list with a 9.9.

"It was really exciting today for all the seniors," Heath said.

Erica Moore, the final senior, also has been a solid contributor the past several seasons.

"Today was definitely exciting, to get out there with the team and do what we love," Moore said.

The seniors have excelled in the classroom as well, helping Southeast rank among the nation's top academic teams for several seasons.

Heath, a four-time NACGC Scholar Athlete, was a member of three straight academic national championship squads.

Gaddie, Sundgren and Moore are all three-time NACGC Scholar Athletes who were on two of Southeast's academic national champions.

"They've all had great careers," Ewasko said. "They are going to be missed."

The Redhawks didn't have one of their better meets of the season Sunday, although their 49.025 beam score ranks fourth in school history.

Sophomore Margaret O'Neal won two events, vault (9.700) and bars (9.875), the first titles of her career in those events.

Sophomore Sarah Billhart won beam (9.875) and Gaddie made it a clean sweep by capturing floor (9.875).

Sundgren won her first all-around title (38.950) and sophomore Taylor Westrick placed second (38.825).

Sundgren tied for second on vault (9.675) and tied for second on bars with Westrick (9.850).

Gaddie and freshman Samantha Marrero tied for second on beam (9.825).

Sophomore Emma Garrett placed second on floor (9.775), while Westrick was third (9.750).

Southeast returns to action Friday at Auburn before ending the regular season March 19 by hosting the Midwest Independent Conference meet.

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