Gymnastics Begins 2016 Season on Friday at West Point Open
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - While the Navy gymnastics program has undergone a change of leadership at its head coaching position, a large 10-man senior class looks to continue the team's improving chances of securing an NCAA Championship bid in 2016. One year after finishing one spot shy of collecting the automatic bid at the ECAC Championships, the team welcomes 1996 U.S. Olympian and former Air Force head coach Kip Simons to take over the reigns following the retirement of Dr. Sho Fukushima, who led the program for 24 years.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the buy-in from the program, the buy-in from the athletes, the support from the top, all the way down," exclaimed Simons. "These athletes are hungry. They're thoroughbreds and they want to be led. I'm just so excited to be here and to be that man to lead these young men.
"We know it's all about Army and we're going to get the job done on Feb. 6. After Army, the next goal is conference competition. The ECAC's give us an automatic bid into the NCAA Championships. The team is hungry for the NCAA's; it's been 24 years since we've won the conference title. The team knows this is its ticket and for those 10 seniors, they want to close out their career on a high note at the NCAA Championships."
Navy concluded its 2015 season with seven individuals competing at the NCAA Qualifying Meet and two, senior Mitchell Larios and junior Jonny Tang, earning their way into the NCAA Championship competition. Both those athletes, as well as fellow qualifying meet competitors, senior Eric Morrison and sophomore Noah Beeman return for the Mids in 2016.
10-Man Senior Class
Larios and Morrison are just two of a senior class that accounts for 55 percent (10-of-18) of Navy’s entire roster. Coming off an injury in 2015, Eric Poletti is charged with leading the team as the squad’s captain in 2016. He’ll be joined on the comeback trail by Connor Westrick, Josh Gong and Jacob Moses. Westrick, a leader on the pommel horse, was sidelined for the majority of 2015 before coming back late for postseason action, while Gong was unable to compete for the entire season due to injuries. The fourth senior re-emerging into the forefront of Navy’s rotational starting lineup is Moses. A two-time letterwinner, he took the calendar year off from the program and competition before re-joining his teammates in the fall of 2015.
The quartet of Zac Ceroli, Michael Dorsey, David Frick and Connor Gonzales all provided good depth to the team in 2015 and look to do the same in 2016. Ceroli, the ECAC’s 2015 Most Improved Gymnast, was a regular in the vaulting lineup, while Dorsey did the same on the pommel horse. Frick vaulted on 10 separate occasions as a junior, in addition to participating in the majority of those meets on the parallel bars and high bar. Gonzales recorded eight scores on the rings and six other marks on the parallel bars in 2015.
Simons’ take: “I expect Jonny Tang and Noah Beeman to be neck-and-neck throughout the year in the all-around. Both are seasoned gymnasts and will carry a strong role in the team’s overall performance.”
The all-around duo participated at the NCAA Qualifying Meet with Tang competing in the entire six-event rotation, while Beeman specialized in the floor exercise and high bar at the meet. During the regular season, Tang was the seventh-ranked all-around gymnast in terms of national qualifying average (NQA) with an 83.650 mark. The highlight of his season was a first-place finish at the USAG Collegiate Championships. While Tang posted 11 scores in the all-around, Beeman used his freshman season to fine-tune a variety of skills for all-around competition as he consistently was a member of three-to-four event lineups per meet. He competed in the all-around twice in 2015, versus William & Mary and at Army.
Larios consistently posted scores between 14.5 and 14.8 for a national qualifiying average (NQA) of 14.688 last season. He posted a season-high 15.05 in the individual finals at the USAG Collegiate Championships. Tang was the highest nationally ranked individual with a 14.838 qualifying average. His season-high was a 15.15 at a regular season meet at Springfield.
Morrison, Beeman and sophomore Andy Jones should round out the team’s regular starting lineup to begin the year.
Simons’ take: “The pommel horse is the most difficult event of the six out there. I’m pleased that we have a very skilled group of gymnasts that will compete for us on the pommel horse this season led by three seniors, Eric Morrison, Connor Westrick and Michael Dorsey. They’ll provide great scores for us as a team, as well as rank highly nationally.”
Morrison earned his way into the NCAA Qualifying Meet last spring with a 14.663 NQA. Twice in 2015, he came through with a season-high 14.85 score. Due to injuries, Westrick was only able to post five results with a 14.6 at Springfield College leading the way. After not competing in regular season action his first two years, Dorsey stepped up to the plate last season and started in nine separate meets with a 13.9 at the ECAC Championships highlighting his results.
Per their all-around acumen Tang and Beeman should be strong contributors, as well on the pommel horse in 2016.
Simons’ take: “Senior team captain Eric Poletti is going to get the job done for us on the rings. Junior Wyatt LaPointe is another strong ring athlete, who’ll show strongly for the team. One gymnast who was off the radar last year, but should come on strong this season is senior Josh Gong. He has explosive strength and will be secret weapon on the rings.”
The Mids will see some of the largest turnover on the rings as three National Qualifying Meet competitors, Joshua Steves, Thomas Goodell and Eric Viscardi have all graduated. The return of Poletti and Gong, as well as the growth of LaPointe are set to lead the way. In 2014, Poletti appeared in six meets with a season-high score of 14.15 at William & Mary. Gong posted a similar statline in 2014 as he saw action in five different competitions with a season-high 13.6 coming at William & Mary. LaPointe was a member of Navy’s starting lineup seven times in 2015 with three scores of 13.75 or better. He began the season with a sixth-place finish in the individual finals of the West Point Open with a 13.9 result.
Simons notes that freshmen Christian Correale and Mitchell Fornek are contenders for time on the rings. “Christian has done an excellent job developing on the rings and will contribute to the team early in the lineup, while Mitchell is grinding each day to bust into the lineup. I expect both their efforts and growth to pay off big for us as the season moves along.” The freshmen will augment their time on the rings with potential action on the parallel bars for Correale and the high bar for Fornek.
Simons’ take: “A national competitor and top-ranked athlete, Mitch Larios is our leader on the vault. Mitch does a hand-spring double-front, one of the hardest vaults done in the country.”
A top scorer meet-in and meet-out for the Midshipmen in 2015, Larios earned his way into the NCAA Championship Meet with a 15.2-point performance on the vault in qualifying action. He eventually finished 20th overall with a score of 14.75 in the championship.
Amongst returning athletes, Tang (14.05-NQA), David Frick (14.013) and Zac Ceroli (13.925) will look to give the vault lineup an experienced presence. Jones should round out Navy’s starting five on the vault.
Simons’ take: “Again the senior class will play a role in leading the way as Mitch Larios, Connor Westrick and Connor Gonzales are great performers. We’re also going to look for Jonny Tang to step up and help us on the parallel bars.”
A competitor at the Qualifying Meet last spring, Larios recorded a 14.225 NQA on the strength of seven scores of 14.0 or better during the season. A 14.55 mark in the team portion of the ECAC Championships was a season-high, as well as best of the day during that meet. Tang was the second-highest scoring Mid on average last season with a 14.113 NQA and seven scores of 14.0 or better, as well. Injuries and inconsistencies hampered Westrick and Gonzales in 2015, with Westrick registering a p-bar score only once and a season-high 13.75 at the USAG Championships highlighting Gonzales’ campaign.
Sophomore Vadim Ivanov and Frick were also regulars in 2015, who are expected to challenge for important roles on the parallel bar team again this season.
Before an injury robbed him of his junior season, Poletti was a consistent performer of the high bar team. A first-place finish versus Army in the Star Meet as a freshman began his career before coming back as a sophomore and posting a career-high 14.1 at William & Mary. The comeback story is common to Moses as well as he competed almost entirely on the high bar as a sophomore in 2014 before stepping away from the gym last spring. In five meets, he recorded a season-high 13.7 at William & Mary before coming back in the ECACs and finishing in 16th place.
Tang (14.225), Beeman (13.663) and Frick (13.1) are the three leading gymnasts from 2015 who return on the high bar. Tang surpassed a 14.0 score in eight of his 13 meets, while Beeman reached that mark twice last spring. An earlier performer in the lineup, Frick earned solid sixth-place finishes at William & Mary and at Springfield with identical 13.3 scores. John-Charles Arion is a fourth veteran Midshipmen, who returns after earning competition reps in 2015.
West Point Open
This Friday and Saturday night, the team will be participating in its first competition of the season, the West Point Open. Beginning on Friday at 7 p.m., the Mids will be one of five squads facing off in the team event before the top-scoring individuals in each apparatus come back Saturday at 7 p.m. for the individual event finals.
The action at Christl Arena will consist of competition between Navy, Army West Point, Penn State, Springfield and Temple.
Friday night's team event will be streamed by Army West Point and will be available for a one-time fee of $6.95 at this link ... KnightVision broadcast