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The St. Marys Area High School gymnastics team returns to action this season under the direction of 10-year veteran head coach Irene McCandless and new assistant coach Mary Lynne Bellotti, who also brings years of coaching experience to the team. The team will look to improve on their results from last year, when they finished with a 5-3 record and placed second at both the League Championship meet and the PA Classic Bronze Division Team Championship meet.
McCandless noted that this season the team was definitely expanded in the number of participants.
"This will be one of the larger teams St. Marys has had in a number of years, consisting of 12 gymnasts," McCandless said.
According to McCandless, the squad will have their work cut out for them this season.
"We have a very young team with not a lot of depth experience-wise," McCandless said.
The team does have three returning letter winners from last year: senior Michaela Sorg, who previously qualified for the PA Classic as an all-around in the Bronze Division and placed fifth on vault; Abby Wittman, a junior who previously qualified for the PA Classic on vault in the Silver Division; and Mackenzie Neureiter, a sophomore who previously qualified for the PA Classic on vault, beam and floor in the Bronze Division.
Sorg, a three-year letter winner, is the lone senior on the team. Wittman, a two-year letter winner, is the sole junior. Neureiter and Katlyn McCandless are both sophomore members of the squad, while the bulk of the members are in the form of the team's eight freshmen: Seana Bobenreith, Cheyenne Bothun, Nicole Florio, Ashley Krise, Marissa Pangallo, Allison Prokop, Madison Quesenberry, and Jessica Tettis.
"I see a lot of potential with the young team and I am eager and anxious to see how the season progresses for them," McCandless said. "We have definitely gained some very talented girls who are eager to learn and compete. I think this team is going to surprise themselves as the competing season moves forward."
One area that McCandless indicated team members may need to work on is their routine on bars.
"If I had to pick a trouble area for the team, my guess would probably have to be bars. Bar kids are not made overnight and it takes years of experience to master this difficult event, but I'm just not sure at this point how troublesome this event will actually be as the season progresses. I think the ultimate task at hand is getting the first meet out of the way for the newcomers," McCandless said.
McCandless remarked that while she expects the team's meets with Ridgway and DuBois to be "pretty close," Altoona and Bellefonte may present challenges.
"[Altoona and Bellefonte] are going to be very tough to beat, as I know Altoona had a young team [last year] and did not graduate any. Bellefonte still looks like they will be the top team in the league again due to many of their teammates being YMCA gymnasts," McCandless said.
Regardless of their competition, the St. Marys gymnastics team's main goal for the season remains to work hard on perfecting their routines "poise-wise," according to McCandless.
"With such a young team, it takes a lot of repetition and focus to actually get comfortable performing to an audience. If you perform well, you are going to see your scores go up. The biggest part of our scoring comes down to execution and amplitude (the way you perform) in which you can get a maximum of 4.2 points, then followed by difficulty up to 3 points, your event requirements 1.2 points, then composition .8, and finally bonuses up to .8 points. I'm pretty comfortable in saying that we have a lot of the difficulty covered and some, if not most, of the event requirements," McCandless said.
While McCandless hopes that the three returning letter winners on the team are top performers this season, she added that she also expects big things from the newcomers to the squad.
"[They] are trying to fill the shoes of the four talented gymnasts lost last season due to graduation - 2010 Silver state vault champion and four-year letter winner Molly Eschbach, four-year letter winner Megan Longhi, three-year letter winner Bobbi Fox, and two-year letter winner Justin Huey," McCandless said.
The St. Marys squad will open their season on Wednesday, Dec. 14 as they host the Ridgway Elkers at 6 p.m. at the St. Marys Area Middle School.