UA, ASU gymnastics re-loading with new head coaches


John Court is in a good career place right now as the new head coach of the University of Arizona women’s gymnastics program.

But he’d probably like to be where Jay Santos is even more.

Santos (photo right), in just his second year as head coach of the Arizona State gymnastics program, was recently named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year.  He and his wife, Jessica, who serves as associate head coach, took over the GymDevils program in May of 2016 and set about to begin rebuilding a program that had won a total of three dual meets in the previous two years.

When he upset the No. 23-ranked University of Arizona toward the close of last season, his first at the helm, it marked the first regular-season Pac-12 victory in three years.  That’s how far the program had fallen in recent years.

The husband and wife duo was hired away from Eastern Michigan where they led that program to the 2016 Mid-American Conference Championship, the program’s first-ever NCAA Regional appearance, and finished the season ranked 17th in the nation.

Coincidentally, this year’s squad has also finished the regular season ranked No. 17.  And the pre-season goal that Santos set for this young squad that includes just one senior has also been reached.  Santos wanted to lead his new charges to a regional appearance, and that mission will be realized this weekend when the team travels to State College, Pa., to participate at the University Park Regional – the program’s first regional appearance since 2014.

ASU, which is a No. 3 seed, will be competing with five other teams in that regional, including Florida, which is ranked fifth in the nation, and No. 8 Washington.  However, the GymDevils have four wins over nationally-ranked teams already this season.

Under Santos, this squad has jumped 24 spots in the national standings from where it finished last year and has ranked in the Top 20 for 11 consecutive weeks.  When the team beat California in this season’s Pac-12 home opener, it scored a 196.800, the program’s best score in almost 10 years and 19th best all-time.

Those are the kind of stats that Court hopes to put up now that he has full control of the UofA program.  He has been on staff in Tucson for 19 years as an assistant coach, and was named interim head coach for the 2017-18 season.  But now he has been given a vote of confidence from the administration and will serve as head coach going forward.

He earned his stripes this season by stepping up when Tabitha Yin resigned her position as head coach with little time left before the start of last season.  After just two seasons in Tucson, she left for a similar position at Stanford, her alma mater.

Court proved he could show results as head coach.  Last season the GymCats started the season with the program’s third-highest meet score since 2000 and, on March 2, set a school record in the balance beam (49.525) and set a sixth-best all-time mark on the uneven bars (49.375).

It would seem the fans have already given their approval of Court’s elevation to head coach, obviously expecting big things for the program.  Wildcat Nation set a new attendance record this season when 3,446 fans showed up for the home opener.

Court has head-coaching experience — and was very successful in that role.  He was at University of Vermont for five years, from 1993-98, and head coach for three of those years.  During those three years, he was twice named the conference Coach of the Year.

His work as an assistant at Arizona has also been recognized.  Court was named the South Central Regional Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007 and again in 2012.  During his time with the Wildcat program he has worked primarily with the vault and floor-exercise teams, and has also served as the recruiting coordinator during much of that time.

The groundwork for his coaching career was laid long ago, before Vermont.  While he was still a youngster, in fact.  His mother is Jackie Court, a coaching legend in the sport who spent 33 years directing the Brown University program.  John Court cut his coaching teeth at Brown, working for two years as an assistant on his mother’s staff.

Now his career path has reached new heights, with new responsibilities and challenges.  But, after almost two decades with the same program, the transition to top dog should be seamless.

And those annual Territorial Cup meetings between ASU and UofA should now become more competitive than any time in recent memory.

Both of these coaching changes will be a win-win for gymnastics fans in this state.