Carolina graduated five talented performers from last season's team that accounted for nearly half of the team's competition lineup (11 of 24). However, the Tar Heels have been working diligently to prepare for the 2013 season and will lean heavily on a senior class that includes All-EAGL standouts Elizabeth Durkac and beam standout Maura Masatsugu.
"We have four regular season meets and then the EAGL Championships," says head coach Derek Galvin, who is set to begin his 32nd season at Carolina. "I'm excited about that because we want people on campus and in the community to be more aware of our gymnastics team. We want more opportunities to compete in front of our home crowd because that creates a greater excitement and enthusiasm for our gymnasts. We were among the top 12 teams in the nation based on attendance last year and we want to continue to grow that each year."
A new edition to the team is assistant coach and choreographer Amy Smith who comes to UNC from UCLA where she performed as a student-athlete and later served as an assistant coach. Smith also has worked to develop her coaching skills with gymnastics programs at Florida and Missouri.
"Amy has done a fantastic job of developing the routines and developing the skills of the gymnasts," says Galvin. "She's our primary coach on balance beam and floor exercise. She's done all the choreography for the team and a majority of the music. She's brought in some creative things that have made the preseason even more fun and exciting.
"I think Amy is going to have a big impact, not only on the way the team looks when we compete, but also in their confidence. Having a choreographer here all the time is something we have never had the luxury of having in the past. She is able to make adjustments on a daily basis on their floor routines or their beam routines. That's going to lead to stronger performances throughout the course of the season."
Zoya Johnson, a senior last year and an All-EAGL performer, also joined the coaching staff as a student assistant coach. Galvin is thrilled to have her providing guidance on the uneven bars and vault.
With just 12 gymnasts on the 2013 roster, staying healthy is one of Carolina's top priorities. The team has experienced its share of recent hardships with both Meredith Magjuka and Michelle Ikoma redshirting during their careers with a back injury and a torn Achilles, respectively. Last year, Kristin Aloi suffered an ankle injury in the final meet of the season and is still recovering.
"We don't have as much depth on a couple of events as we would like to have," says Galvin. "We have one of the smallest teams, in terms of total numbers, than we've had in many years, so we don't have a lot of room for illness or injury. One of our top priorities this year is going to be keeping the team healthy throughout the full course of the season."
If the team can stay injury-free, it will be in solid position to compete for the EAGL trophy. However, the goals do not stop there. The Tar Heels are striving to be outright regular season champions and qualify for the NCAA regional and national championships.
Durkac and Masatsugu will serve as senior co-captains this year and Galvin has already seen their guidance pay off.
"The leadership within the team is very effective right now," he says. "Elizabeth and Maura have both been very engaged in the process of everything we've done this semester. They've been a good voice from the team to the coaching staff, and they've also served as a voice from the coaching staff to the team. That's worked effectively."
Durkac returns to the team after a breakout season. She is the only gymnast in UNC's program history to record a 39.00 or better in the all-around competition at eight consecutive meets. Galvin fully expects her to assume her role as an all-around competitor in the Tar Heels' lineup again this year.
"We've had some very strong gymnasts here in the past," says Galvin, "but Elizabeth is the only one who has topped 39.00 in so many consecutive meets. She's a very talented gymnast and an extremely hard-working gymnast. She will be one our of top competitors on each of the four events."
Masatsugu also will be a valuable asset in multiple events this season. Her dance work in her floor routine has placed her in a viable position to join the lineup, as long as her ankle continues to improve. Her primary strength is on the balance beam, but she has also been working to improve her skill level on the uneven bars. She will provide depth in those events.
The junior class is the largest, with five returning gymnasts, including two redshirts, Magjuka and Ikoma. Magjuka has been impressive on the balance beam and floor exercise, and she has shown steady progress on vaulting. She has been one of the most consistent gymnasts on beam in the preseason. Ikoma will be a top competitor on both the floor exercise and vault.
"Last season, Meredith provided depth for us on floor exercise and balance beam," says Galvin. "This year she looks even stronger in those two events. She has also shown improvement on vault over last year, so Meredith could potentially be competing on three events for us. Michelle's new floor exercise routine is full of energy and personality, and her vaulting is stronger this year too."
Emily Cornwell was a mainstay in the uneven bars lineup last season and will likely continue that role in 2013. She has responded well to Smith's coaching on balance beam and Galvin places her in the top eight on the apparatus.
Acacia Cosentino is also a strong competitor on the uneven bars as well as on floor exercise. She will be in the lineup on both bars and floor exercise this year. As her skills continue to develop on balance beam and vaulting she will be in contention to compete on those events too.
Aloi, recently approved to start tumbling after her foot injury last season, hopes to rejoin the floor lineup. As one of the top competitors in that event a season ago, the team is intent on getting her back to 100 percent. Aloi spent most of her recovery time training on the uneven bars, as that event places the least amount of stress on her injured foot. With the extra practice, her skills have improved significantly.
In the sophomore class, Galvin likes the improvements he has seen in Haley Watts and Janelle Sargent. Watts had her best meet of the season at the 2012 NCAA regionals, and is expected to continue that success this year. She will likely compete on floor, beam and vault, and she is showing strong potential to move into the bar line-up. Sargent competed on the balance beam last year, and she is expected to compete on that event again this year. She may also contribute to the floor lineup. Her tumbling has grown stronger and the dance and performance quality of her routine is beautiful.
"Haley has made some progress on the other events during the preseason and there's a strong chance she will be competing as an all-arounder," says Galvin. "Janelle had a great preseason. Balance beam is where she competed for us last year. She's looked good on beam. She's also been working very hard on floor exercise and uneven bars. I think Janelle is, again, going to be someone who gives us depth on floor exercise."
Galvin has high hopes for each of the incoming freshman. Lexi Cappalli, Sarah Peterson and Josselyn Mackey have made a seamless transition into training for colligate gymnastics, and though the gymnasts have yet to compete in an actual meet, they have performed well in the intra-squad meets held every Friday of preseason training.
"They each have different areas where they are strongest, where they shine," says Galvin. "Josselyn has the potential to compete for us on all four events. Actually all three of them do. They are going to give us depth on every event. Lexi has a very energetic style in her routine on floor exercise. She's a great performer. She really has the kind of performance quality that draws the audience into the routine. On balance beam, Josselyn is very strong. Of the three freshmen she's probably the most consistent on that event right now. On uneven bars, all three are capable of making the lineup, and the same holds true on vaulting."
Carolina will have the home crowd advantage in five meets this season. The team will open at the Lindsey Ferris Invitational at George Washington University, but quickly return the favor as the Tar Heels host both George Washington and William and Mary on Jan 20. Carolina and Maryland face each other in a home-and-home series in consecutive weeks on Jan. 26 (College Park) and Feb. 2 (Chapel Hill). After road trips to Washington, D.C., and NC State, the Tar Heels play host to the Wolfpack on Feb. 22. Carolina travels to Pittsburgh and nationally-ranked Oklahoma in the first two weeks of March before concluding the regular season by hosting Pennsylvania on Senior Day on March 16.
Finally, Carolina wraps up the 2013 season by hosting the EAGL Championship on March 23. It is the first time UNC has hosted the league championship since 2001.
Last year's senior class included three of the strongest vaulters in UNC's history. This season, the focus will be on balanced scoring throughout the lineup. In the preseason there was no single individual who stood out from the group. Therefore, the team will have to work together to eliminate deductions in the execution of their vaults. Durkac, Ikoma and Watts return with the most college experience on the event. Magjuka, Cosentino, and the freshmen class of Cappalli, Peterson, and Mackey will be completing the line-up.
"Vault is the event where we really needed to get stronger than where we were at the beginning of pre-season training," says Galvin. "The training has been going well, but we still have progress to make in order to be ready to compete with the top teams."
Much like vault, the Tar Heels graduated a very talented group in this event, but Galvin and the gymnasts are excited about the opportunity that creates in the lineup. Durkac, Cornwell and Cosentino are expected to be in the lineup. Masatsugu, Watts and Sargent, along with the freshmen class, will all be vying for a place in the bars line-up. Galvin expects great intra-squad competition in this event along with vault.
"If I were an athlete on the team, I'd be excited about training those two events (uneven bars/vault) because there are more openings for making the lineup" said Galvin. "And I think that's the attitude the team is taking. With continued efforts and focus in training, we'll get stronger on those two events as the season progresses and we get more experience competing those events."
Morgan Evans and Krista Jasper were consistent top performers on this event last season, and Galvin must replace those two outstanding performers. Masatsugu, Durkac, Magjuka, Sargent and Watts have performed solidly in the preseason. Freshman Mackey has also excelled on this event. Depth will be provided by Cornwell, Cosentino, and freshmen Cappalli and Peterson.
"I'm excited about the depth I see on that event," says Galvin. "We graduated some very consistent performers, but I feel that on this event we have some people who can step up and close that gap."
With the addition of Smith to the coaching staff and the new choreography she brings, the Tar Heels will have a new look this year. Veterans Durkac, Ikoma, Cosentino, Watts and Magjuka will likely contribute to the lineup. Aloi returns as one of the top performers on floor exercise from last season with hopes of overcoming a foot injury sustained late last year. Cornwell, Sargent and the dynamic freshmen class have all shown potential for the floor line-up. Galvin is excited to see the crowd reaction to the new choreography and music the Tar Heels will display this year..
"With the new choreography and new music, I think floor is going to be a lot of fun," says Galvin. We've got so many different styles. Amy has been very effective at tapping into the personalities of each of the gymnasts and developing the choreography for their routines. It's going to be fun to see them compete those routines and I'm really eager to see the response from spectators, from our alums, from people who have seen our gymnasts perform in previous season.."