UA GymCats win opener; latest to draw a record crowd

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                </div>  The women’s gymnastics program at University of Arizona is apparently the latest sport to catch on to a rising tide of interest lately in college athletics.  Attendance at college […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The women’s gymnastics program at University of Arizona is apparently the latest sport to catch on to a rising tide of interest lately in college athletics.  Attendance at college sporting events, at least in Arizona, seems to be growing – across the board.

Just last week, the Grand Canyon University men’s basketball team set a new attendance record by squeezing 7,413 spectators into the 7,200-seat GCU Arena for a game with New Mexico State.  The Antelopes are still working their way through a four-year transition period from Division II to D-I acceptance, but pack the house for every game.

At Arizona State University, the women’s soccer team broke attendance records in early November, drawing 1,302 fans to a match-up with rival Arizona.

And last season, the University of Arizona women’s basketball team set a new record for its program when 6,268 fans showed up for a game with UC Santa Barbara.  The Wildcats were a team coming off an 0-2 start to the season – after finishing 5-24 the year before – and hadn’t had a winning season in three years.

Now the UofA GymCats just opened their 2016 season last Friday with a win over Michigan State in front of 3,707 enthusiastic supporters – yep, another program attendance record.

Maybe it was, in part at least, the curiosity that comes with wanting to get a look at the program’s new head coach, Tabitha Yim, who took the reins last May.

Yim was a 14-time All-American at Stanford during her collegiate career and was hired away from that California school, where she had been an assistant coach for the last five years.

The California native brings a rare versatility to her coaching job.  In college, she won two regional titles and one Pac-10 Championship on the balance beam, two regional titles on the uneven bars, and twice finished third in floor exercise at the NCAA Championships.  She was the Pac-10 and Regional Gymnast of the Year as a senior.

Yim and her new team didn’t disappoint the thousands on hand in McKale Center for the opener, or the live audience that had tuned in on the Pac-12 Arizona network.  They defeated the visiting Big 10 team, 195.700 – 193.775.

Leading the way were the youngsters on this year’s team.  Freshman Skyler Sheppard won the event title on the beam with a 9.825 performance and another freshman, Lauryn Mattson, tied with sophomore teammate Maddy Cindric to win the vault competition with a score of 9.825.

A couple of juniors wrapped up the other titles, as Gabby Laub won the uneven bars with a 9.850 performance and Kennedy Schneider won the fourth and final rotation, the floor routines, by posting a 9.825 score.

Sheppard and Mattson are among the five members of this year’s freshman class that Yim is trying to blend with 10 returning letterwinners in time to meet the challenges that will come with taking on six preseason top-25 teams on this year’s schedule.

The GymCats, who were picked in the preseason polls to finish sixth in the Pac-12, will likely carry their No. 18 national ranking into the next stop on the schedule, Denton, TX, where they will take on Texas Women’s University this weekend.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)