UA gymnasts facing one of country’s toughest schedules

The University of Arizona gymnastics squad will start the season this weekend as the No. 19-ranked team in the country.

That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that there are five schools in their own conference that are ranked even higher in the national Pre-season Coaches’ Poll.  Once again, the Pac-12 is a minefield of talented teams.

Four Pac-12 opponents will begin the season ranked in the top 10: No. 2 UCLA, No. 5 Utah, No. 6 Stanford, and No. 9 Oregon State.  The other ranked team in the conference is No. 17 Washington.

“The Pac-12 is certainly one of the very best gymnastics conferences in the country,” head coach Bill Ryden points out.  “As a whole, the Pac-12 is incredibly strong, and gymnastics is a very strong sport within our conference.”

Add to that a challenging overall schedule for the GymCats that includes 11 out of 19 opponents that will begin the season ranked in the nation’s Top 25.

“We knew going in we would have one of the toughest schedules in the country,” admits Ryden, who begins his 15th season at the controls of the program.  “I think we will have our hands full, but we will grow from it.”

That chance to grow begins right away as Arizona faces off with a couple of ranked teams this Sunday afternoon to open the 2013 campaign.  The squad will open on the road against California, No. 13 Auburn, and No. 25 Kentucky.

Arizona wrapped the 2012 season with a 13-5 record and a 26th consecutive post-season appearance.  That team took a fifth place at the Pac-12 Championships to earn a berth in the Regionals, but a disappointing bar routine kept the Cats from advancing to the NCAA National Championships.

Two gymnasts did qualify as individuals for the Nationals.  Katie Matusik earned a third place in the beam competition in her final year, and Aubree Cristello competed in all-around and floor.

Cristello didn’t make it to podium but she is back this season for her senior year.  The import from New York is one of nine letter winners that return this season.

This year’s roster carries just two local athletes, the most experienced being Shana Sangston, a graduate of Horizon Honors High School in Phoenix.  The 5’1″ junior competes in the all-around and took part in every meet her first two seasons at ASU.  She saved the best for last in 2012, posting career highs in the vault (9.800) and floor (a twin 9.800) in the final home meet of the season.

The other Arizona representative is Shelby Edwards, a freshman from San Tan Valley who took first place in the all-around at the 2011 and 2012 Arizona State championships and was also the Junior Olympics Nationals vault champion last year.  She joins with three other newcomers that will provide some depth in the program going forward.

Arizona will have five home meets this season, with the first arriving January 12 when the Cats will host Stanford, Illinois, and San Jose State.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)