Navy Gymnastics Readies Itself for 2017 Season
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Navy gymnastics team kicks off its 2017 campaign on Friday with action at the West Point Open. Coming off a standout 2016 season that saw the program reach new heights with its first ECAC Championship since 1989 and second-ever NCAA Championship bid as a team, the Mids will look to reload on the fly this year as eight freshmen will be incorporated over a competitive 13-meet schedule.
“We pretty much maximized our full potential last year,” remarked second-year head coach Kip Simons. “I came in mid-September and immediately had high expectations for the team and those 10 seniors. We fulfilled that goal by winning the conference for the first time since 1989 and taking the team to the NCAAs, it was one for the story books.
“We have a whole new team here this season. Under the leadership of our team captain Wyatt LaPointe, I couldn’t have asked for a better leader. We have eight plebes out there working and they’re bright eyed. We have a lot of work to get them up to speed with the collegiate competition world and we start off at the West Point Open. We’ve had a great preseason and I know that those freshmen will contribute in at least half of our routines this year. We’ll have some growing pains along the way, but I expect us to hit full stride by midseason and be ready to go for championship season.”
After graduating a 10-man senior class last May, the initial pressure for Navy’s 2017 team will fall on its seven returning veterans. Seniors Jonny Tang and Wyatt LaPointe will lead the way in action and in leadership as Tang will be competing as an all-around gymnast for his fourth straight year and LaPointe is serving as the team’s captain.
In 2016, Tang advanced to the NCAA Championship all-around finals and finished 15th nationally with an 82.95 score. Leading up to the NCAA meet, Tang earned six top-six podium finishes between the USAG and ECAC Championships. At the USAGs, the Pennsylvania native won the floor exercise event title with a 14.55 performance. At five separate occasions during the regular season he was selected by the ECAC as its Gymnast of the Week.
LaPointe was a constant staple in the Mids’ rings lineup as a junior in 2016 and will once again be counted on in that event for Navy in 2017. Last year, he posted five 14.0-plus scores over his nine appearances. LaPointe also aided Navy’s vaulting corps in three different meets.
The junior class for Navy stands three deep with Noah Beeman, Andy Jones and Vadim Ivanov. After competing as an all-arounder intermittently over his first two seasons, Simons foresees Beeman as a regular in the challenging six-event position. Beeman saw action in the floor, pommel horse and high bar 11 times in 2016 and earned All-ECAC honors for his fourth and fifth-place finishes respectively on the high bar and floor at the conference championship.
“Jonny is always going to do a great job for us, but Noah, another all-arounder, has had an outstanding preseason and I expect him to step up and do all six events for us and quite frankly push Jonny as the all-around leader,” said Simons.
Jones broke through as a sophomore in his first collegiate action with a catalog of strong performances on the floor, vault and high bar. A two-time ECAC Rookie of the Week, Jones qualified for the event finals on the vault at both the USAG and ECAC Championships and finished on the podium with respective finishes of third and fifth place.
Over his first two seasons wearing the Blue and Gold, Ivanov has found himself in a variety of competitions as a pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar performer. In 2016, he recorded individual career-highs with a 13.3 on the pommel horse and 13.45 on the high bar.
The sophomore duo of Christian Correale and Mitchell Fornek complete the list of returning Navy gymnasts. A specialist on the rings and parallel bars, Correale was a consistent member of the Mids’ counting lineup and came through with one of his best scores of the season, a 14.2 on the rings, in Navy’s ECAC title-winning effort in April. He qualified for the event finals on both apparatuses at the conference championship. For his performance at the All-Academy Championship in mid-February, Correale was selected as the ECAC Rookie of the Week.
Fornek saw limited in-meet action for the Mids as he battled for reps with Navy’s deep senior-laden starting lineup. Fornek competed for Navy in a pair of contests versus William & Mary on the rings and high bar and turned in a top-notch result in his first showing against the Tribe with a 14.25-point high bar routine to rank second overall.
To reload after losing such a significant class, the coaching staff brought in eight talented freshmen, many of whom will impact the team immediately. A diverse class with an array of top-level finishes at the JO and JE Nationals, and international competition to their name, the plebe class will be play a large role in Navy’s postseason aspirations in 2017 and into the future.
Texas is represented by a trio of gymnasts as Lucas Beltran, Cian McConnell and Tanner West join the program from the Lone Star State. Will Longwe and Ben Provost give the Class of 2020 two Massachusetts natives, while Frank Bradley (Virginia), Trevor North (Ohio) and Ryan Orce (Florida) round out the expansive class.
“Freshmen-wise it will be a total team effort,” said Simons. “We have eight gymnasts out there and all eight will probably see competition time throughout the season. Tanner West comes in as our top freshman, but he’s had a few injuries throughout the preseason. He’s slated to contribute in three or four events. All the way through from Ryan Orce to Ben Provost to Lucas Beltran, all plebes are going to have an impact and we’re going to need them to step up and get the job down, especially when we move into the second half of the season.”
Navy’s 2017 schedule begins on Friday, January 13 with two days of competition at the West Point Open. The Mids will take on a talented seven-team field with No. 5 Penn State and No. 7 Nebraska leading the way. The following Saturday, the Mids will kick off their four-meet home schedule with the 2017 Navy Open. The final three home competitions for Navy are William & Mary (Jan. 28), Penn State (Feb. 25) and Air Force/William & Mary (March 10). The team’s annual Star Meet with Army is set for February 4 at West Point.
The postseason for the Mids begins in late March with the USAG Collegiate Championship on March 24 in Seattle. Navy will defend its ECAC title in Chicago on April 8. With the ECAC dropping under the NCAA mandatory automatic qualifying number of six varsity members, the team title will not guarantee admittance into the NCAA Championship. For 2017 and seasons moving forward the top 12 teams regardless of conference designation will be ranked by a “national qualifying average” and invited to compete at the NCAAs. This season, the NCAA Championship will be hosted by Army on the April 21 and 22.
“The West Point Open is a great early season gauge of where we stand,” remarked Simons. “They’re will be some really good teams, including two Big 10 schools up there. It will also give us an early look versus Army. The Star Meet is really our biggest regular season competition, then it’s onto the conference championship and USAG Nationals. The ultimate goal is to take the team back to the NCAA Championship as a program.”
“Our objectives really haven’t changed from last year. We aim to maximize our potential, win the conference and take the team to the NCAA Championship. The difference from 2016 to 2017 is that we have a whole different team. I love this team. These guys are a bunch of hungry athletes who bring it every single day when they walk through the doors of the gym. I’m excited for what lies ahead this season.”