DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire gymnastics team begins the 2014 season with an away meet against East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) rival Rutgers University at Livingston Gym on Saturday, Jan. 11, at 1 p.m.
UNH finished 17-7 last season, which included a 194.810 Regional Qualifying Score (RQS), a No. 41 year-end national ranking and a season-high mark of 195.650 scored in a tri-meet victory over Temple and Brown at Lundholm Gym on Jan. 26. This year's team motto is "Work Today, Conquer Tomorrow."
Seniors Hannah Barile (Sinking Spring, Pa.) and Erin Machado (Swansea, Mass.) will lead the team as co-captains. Barile, the team's inaugural Cats Can award recipient in 2013 for her dedication and work ethic, returns with solid routines on vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. The 2013 NCAA Regional competitor is known for her unique vault, a pike Cuervo, which has amazing height and a dynamic landing (PB 9.825), as well as her explosive tumbling, which has made her a strong member of the Wildcats' floor lineup (PB 9.875). Machado, the team's Most Inspirational gymnast in '13, suffered a minor setback this fall, but will return on both balance beam (PB 9.800) and floor (PB 9.850) with drive and determination.
Jannelle Minichiello (Tewksbury, Mass.) will be a four-event performer. The senior should settle back into the beam (PB 9.900), floor (PB 9.875) and bars (PB 9.800) lineups and establish herself as a major contributor. In addition, Minichiello has been training to break into the vaulting lineup to secure herself a spot as an all-around competitor. Rounding out the senior class, Jillian Hudson (Sparkill, N.Y.) has returned this year from a season-ending injury in 2013. Hudson is on track to get back into the vault (PB 9.850) lineup and make the most of her senior campaign.
Kayla Gray (Buffalo, N.Y.), 2013 EAGL balance beam champion and NCAA Regional competitor, headlines the junior class; she will take the stage on bars (PB 9.850), beam (PB 9.950) and floor (PB 9.925). She holds the honor of being the anchor on beam, with rhythm and balance that is unmatched on this event. Erika Rudiger (Slidell, La.) combines power and speed as she dominates vaulting (PB 9.800) and floor (PB 9.875). Adrienne Hill (Midlothian, Va.), who is returning from an injury that cost her the entire 2013 season, will make her 2014 debut on vault (PB 9.800) and beam (PB 9.825). Her ability to remain calm and controlled works to her advantage.
The sophomore class returns strong and deep with eight gymnasts. Kelsey Aucoin (Double Oak, Texas), who missed her entire freshman season due to injury, will fight for an anchor spot on vaulting and balance beam. Catarina Broccoli (Mystic, Conn.) and Lauren Brodie (Mogadore, Ohio) each look to secure a lineup spot on bars, beam and floor. Brittany Prestia (Harleysville, Pa.) provides depth on vault, beam and floor. Rebekah Bubnar (Granville, Ohio) has been working hard to prove herself on vault and bars. Cassy Izzo (Cranston, R.I.) has been training primarily beam and floor this season. Her best event is beam, as she knows how to hit full splits and stick her landing. Elissa Solomon (Ridgefield, Conn.), a mainstay in the beam (PB 9.800) lineup as a freshman, has spent the fall rehabbing from a two-month ankle injury. She is getting stronger every day and hopes to come back this season better than ever. Courtney Thompson (Chester, N.H.) continues to improve on a daily basis in her bid to return to full health and add depth to the bar lineup.
The freshman class is loaded with talent and enthusiasm. Jessica Gracia (Bahama, N.C.) will be a key competitor on all four events for the Wildcats this year. Meghan Pflieger (Barneveld, N.Y.) is rock solid on beam; her power and speed on vault and floor will also dramatically help those events. Jennifer King (Freehold, N.J.) will fight for a spot in the bar lineup as well as the beam lineup. Kaylor Kelley (Loudon, Tenn.) has been recovering from a few injuries sustained this past summer. When she gets back into training, her grace and choreography will make a huge impact on beam and floor.
UNH plays host to a quad-meet against 14th-ranked Minnesota, Brown and Yale on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 1 p.m. in Lundholm Gym. For more information, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.
The 2014 EAGL Championship, hosted by UNH, will take place at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H., on Saturday, March 22 (2 p.m.). The last year the Whitt was the host site for EAGLs was 2003, which was the only year UNH claimed the league championship.
Photo: Senior Co-Captain Erin Machado (courtesy Gil Talbot)