Women’s gymnastics readies for annual Duel In Desert

Women’s gymnastics hit the floor with a resounding echo over the weekend, as all the Pac-10 teams got together to kick off the first year of the new Pac-10 Showcase and see how they stack up against one another.

ASU is healthy this year. UofA has good depth.

And that about sums up what each brings to the annual Duel in the Desert, with the rivalry match next up for the Devils on Jan. 21.  The Cats get a tune-up with a meet against Utah State at Logan on Friday before returning home to host the Duel.

Neither squad had particularly impressive outings at the season preview that was hosted by UCLA at Pauley Pavilion.  Arizona finished fourth, with a team score of 193.825, behind No. 6 Stanford, which won the event with 196.625 points.  ASU compiled 191.850 points for sixth place.

Both teams were ranked in the Top 25 in the national pre-season rankings, Arizona at No. 19 and Arizona State at No. 25.

ASU is coming off a lackluster 2010 season, when they were plagued with injuries and managed a 7th place finish in the conference and a 5th place at the West Regional.  The Devils finished 2-11 overall and 2-4 in the Pac-10.

Senior Mary Atkinson was the lone Sun Devil to reach the NCAA Championships last season, where she earned All-America honors in the all-around, making her the 27th athlete John Spini has coached to All-America honors since his arrival in Tempe in 1980.

But this year should be better.  “This is the first time in three years where I feel like we are going to be healthy physically,” says the Gym Devils’ head coach,  Spini. “I feel like we have the potential to perform and compete with any team in the nation.”

They’ll get a chance to prove that because this year the Pac-10 has six ranked teams, including the Arizona schools.  Three are ranked in the Top 10: No. 1 UCLA, No. 6 Stanford, and No. 8 Oregon State.  Washington rounds out the group at No. 21.

But first, there’s the matter of matching up with the Wildcats, who were 12-12 last year and made their 24th consecutive NCAA post-season appearance.  They finished the season ranked No. 20 in the nation.

And this year, they have three returning First Team All-Conference all-around athletes and two former First Team selections.

That depth will make them dangerous this year.  In addition, they’ve got five freshmen on the roster and some of them are expected to contribute early.

The coaches have added all new bar routines for almost the entire squad, as well as new floor and beam routines.  The results at the Showcase included a 48.025  on the bars, led by junior Deanna Graham‘s 9.750, and on the beam competition, where sophomore Molly Quirk hit 9.850 to lead the squad to a 47.825 total.

Graham, a Tucson native who placed first on vault in the 2007 nationals during her high school competition, is the only Wildcat who qualified for last year’s NCAA championships in the individual all-around competition.

And the floor and vault events, where Arizona was so strong last year, ran up totals of 49.025 on the floor exercises and 48.950 on the vault segment.

Graham led the team in both events, scoring a tie for third on the floor (9.90) and a tie for first on the vault (9.875).

“For the most part, I was pretty happy with how we did, and how we are starting out the season,” said Arizona head coach, Bill Ryden.  “We made a few mistakes, but they are things that are easily fixed, and can really be chalked up to first-meet jitters.”

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)