It’s been a tough first season for Arizona State‘s new gymnastics head coach Jay Santos. But on Sunday afternoon, rival University of Arizona gave the Gym Devils a reason to celebrate – and provided some momentum going into next week’s Pac-12 Championships.
ASU, which had won just one meet and none in conference competition before taking on No. 23 Arizona, squeezed past the Wildcats, 195.700-195.375, in Tucson. The upset marked the first regular-season Pac-12 victory in three years.
And that last conference win, in February of 2014, also came courtesy of the Wildcats.
The Sun Devils used a 49.150 performance on beam to close out the win, led by Nichelle Christopherson‘s career-high 9.900, which turned out to be the best of the meet in that event. Katelyn Lentz also hit a career-high mark of 9.875 for second place, a critically-important finish to help boost the Devils past Arizona in the final tally.
“Bean was huge for us tonight, with the last few routines really coming up big,” Santos said after the win was locked up. “We talked this week about being able to win a meet on the road on beam, and that is exactly what they were able to do.”
Christopherson also finished first in the bars competition with a career-best 9.875 score. Morgan Wilson led the Devils in winning the vault with a 9.850, her second career-high of the event, and Lentz paced the team in the floor exercises with a career-high 9.850.
Christopherson’s 39.150 overall also enabled her to win the all-around competition
A transfer from the University of Michigan, the 5’2″ dynamo is the only junior on a squad that is very young. Sophomores Lentz and Morgan are two of the six sophomores and seven freshmen that will be the future of the program.
The lone senior on the 15-member roster is Beka Conrad, a recruit from Virginia who has spent all four years competing at ASU, beginning in all-around as a freshman and this season concentrating on beam, where she hit a career-high 9.850 against Stanford three weeks ago.
She assumed her leadership with the right attitude, saying at the start of the season: ” I guess my role is to be the mama bear or mama goose, taking (the younger teammates) under my wings. It’s actually not a challenge at all; I think it’s so much fun.”
Now she has one more meet on the schedule as she continues to shepherd her flock toward the conference championships.
The Gym Devils will compete for the last time in the regular season in a tri-meet with Sacramento State and University of Bridgeport (Conn.) at Wells Fargo Arena.
Santos and his wife, Jessica, who is on staff as associate head coach, worked together at Eastern Michigan to lead that gymnastics program to the 2016 Mid-American Conference Championship and a No. 17 national ranking.
Now they’re starting the herculean task of pulling the program back up the Pac-12 ladder following a last-place finish last year.
Sunday’s win over a ranked conference opponent is a good start.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)