Gymnastics: Returning stars could bring success to Panthers

By Kelly Flanigan

It wasn’t quite the same as former Pitt basketball star Sam Young doing backflips on his… It wasn’t quite the same as former Pitt basketball star Sam Young doing backflips on his recruiting trip five years ago.

Rather, after the Pitt women’s gymnastics team finished fourth in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League championships, three Panther gymnasts — Alicia Talucci, Alix Croop, and Dani Bryan — competed in the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship. Talucci earned ninth place on the beam and floor exercise, and Croop took fifth on the beam.

The experience and leadership of five returning seniors, coupled with Talucci, a standout sophomore, and a talented roster overall should equal success for the Panther gymnastics team this season.

Pitt began its unofficial season with a Blue Gold Intrasquad meet on Dec. 11.

This marked the team’s first chance to compete in front of a crowd.

Head Coach Debbie Yohman was pleased with her team’s performance at the preliminary competition.

“The bars were great for us. I feel we nailed our routines,” she said. “On the beam we struggled a bit, and we held back on the floor because of the injuries, but we have some work to do there. The vault was another solid event for us tonight. Like I said, I am excited to see this team in January because I believe today we are where we need to be to be ready for the start of the season.”

Pitt will open its season with a tri-meet against Kent State and rival West Virginia this weekend.

Additionally, this season’s schedule features home meets against Ohio State; Penn State; a four-way meet with Brockport, Rutgers, and Iowa State and another four-way meet with Penn, George Washington, and Western Michigan.

“West Virginia and Penn State are always tough competitors for us,” Yohman said. “And Ohio State’s program is on the rise so we have some great teams coming to Fitzgerald Field House this season.”

On the road, Pitt will face the likes of New Hampshire, Maryland, George Washington, William & Mary, North Carolina State, Arkansas and Michigan.

Facing such stiff competition didn’t seem to concern Yohman, though, who looks forward to the challenge.

“Our meets with New Hampshire and Michigan State are always so close,” she said. “NC State is always on a national level, and Arkansas finished in the top four last season, so we are looking at a very exciting and tough schedule ahead. Our schedule isn’t easy, but we feel it is perfect for helping us prepare for those final goals.”

Off the mat, the team stands out for their tremendous accomplishments in the classroom.

Last year, six gymnasts were recognized for having more than a 3.5 GPA. Of them, Jennifer Liberato, Lisa Taylor, Krista Rubini and Shannon McConnell will return to this year’s squad.

These girls earned a spot on the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women’s 2009 Scholastic All-America team.

This continued academic success, paired with the team’s performance on the beam, bars and floor routines, leaves Yohman and the rest of the team excited about the approaching season.

“The team is excited about our goals this year and we bring a combination of things to the table that we haven’t in the past. This group is ready to step out and declare those intentions,” Yohman said.