Southeast Missouri State gymnasts look to land back on feet in '13

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Southeast Missouri State's Taylor Westrich competes on the balance beam Friday, March 9, 2012 at Houck Field House in Cape Girardeau. (Laura Simon)

Southeast brings experience into Friday's season opener

It was not a vintage season for the Southeast Missouri State gymnastics team last year as the Redhawks struggled to find consistency.

While scores, not records, are what ultimately determines success in collegiate gymnastics, Southeast went just 2-15 and finished last at the five-team Midwest Independent Conference Championships.

"We were young," fourth-year Southeast coach Kristi Ewasko said. "That's never an excuse. ... We were definitely inconsistent."

The Redhawks' scores were up and down most of the year, but they did end the season strong.

Southeast had its three highest team scores of the campaign during its final five meets, including a season-best 194.425 at home against nationally ranked Auburn.

"I think it showed what this team is made of," Ewasko said. "They fought, dug deep and committed to make the end of the season the best it can be."

The Redhawks plan to carry that momentum into the 2013 season that begins Friday at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. Their home opener will be Jan. 25 against Centenary.

"I definitely think we'll pick up where we left off and keep moving forward," junior Megan Fosnow said. "We're definitely planning to do much better than last year. I think we're going to look really good."

Ewasko, who in 2011 led Southeast to just its second Midwest Independent Conference title in program history, envisions a bounce-back year for the Redhawks. She said she has never been more excited heading into a season, thanks to an experienced roster that features a combined nine seniors and juniors.

"It's really exciting to bring back a little more experience than last year. They've created a different mentality," said Ewasko, whose first two Southeast squads went a combined 30-15 and narrowly missed team regional berths. "We're really strong this year. I really think this is the team capable of doing that [getting to regionals].

"At this time in the year this is the best we've been since I've been here as coach. There's a peace as a head coach that I haven't had before."

Ewasko pointed to some notable accomplishments by last year's team.

The Redhawks sent two competitors to the NCAA South Central Regional, capped by their first representative at the national championship meet since the program went Division I in 1992.

And Southeast continued its success in the classroom, finishing as the 2012 academic national runner-up according to the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women.

Southeast had won four of the previous five academic national championships, including in 2011. The Redhawks' grade-point average was 3.736 during the 2011-12 academic year, trailing only Southern Utah's 3.843.

"Academics are our priority. We will always hold academics first," Ewasko said.

Senior Taylor Westrick highlighted Southeast's 2012 season. The two-time regional qualifier became the program's first national qualifier on the Division I level when she tied for the beam title at the South Central Regional.

"It was a proud moment. We knew she had that potential," Ewasko said.

Westrick said getting back to nationals would be great, but she's more focused on helping Southeast earn a team regional berth.

"I would much prefer the team to do better," Westrick said. "It should be a stronger season. ... [Regionals] is one of the goals we've definitely set."

Joining Westrick as a regional qualifier last season was Fosnow, who made it for the first time.

Other seniors are Emma Garrett, Margaret O'Neal and Angela Serafini, while other juniors are Erin Brady, Samantha Marrero, Kimberly Pickerl and Taryn Vanderpool.

Sophomores are Taylor Huey and Nicole Nickels.

Ewasko also expects contributions from the Redhawks' two newcomers -- freshmen Hayli Huiner and Taylor Penzien.

"We're all really excited for the season," Westrick said.

2013 Southeast Gymnastics Schedule

Jan. 18 -- at Lindenwood, 6 p.m.

Jan. 25 -- CENTENARY, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 2 -- at Northern Illinois, 5 p.m.

Feb. 8 -- at BYU Triangular (Boise State), 8 p.m.

Feb. 10 -- at Boise State, 3 p.m.

Feb. 15 -- ILLINOIS STATE, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 24 -- at Illinois State, 2 p.m.

March 3 -- EASTERN MICHIGAN, 1 p.m.

March 8 -- TEXAS WOMAN'S, 6:30 p.m.

March 15 -- at Kent State Quad (New Hampshire/Cornell), 6 p.m.

March 23 -- at MIC Championships, Shreveport, La., TBA

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