After enduring an offseason far more challenging than any meet, the UCSB women’s gymnastics team is determined to leave the adversity behind and concentrate on what may be its final season.
The Gauchos showed their resolve by rebounding from a frustrating season opener to have a strong outing Friday when they hosted Towson University and Sacramento State in the first home meet of the season. Although Santa Barbara placed third, it scored 183.175, a considerable improvement on its 171 in the previous meet at Davis. UCSB Head Coach Alanna Trimble said that the team was ravaged by injuries and was deprived of experienced competitors.
“We were unnerved because of Kristi Starr’s season-threatening elbow injury,” she said. “Everyone wasn’t ready – we didn’t even have a full team.”
Even more nerve-wracking than being out for the season is the possibility of being out for good. The women’s gymnastics program is in grave danger of being cut – a terrifying prospect for gymnasts who have dedicated their lives for the opportunity to compete on the collegiate level.
“It’s awful knowing that the program will be taken away for no reason, especially for freshmen who haven’t got to compete for very long,” junior Talia Gamm said. “You’ve dedicated so much, only to have your dreams ripped out from under you.”
The savior of the program was to be Mari-Rae Sopper, the Head Coach who died in the Sept. 11 attacks while traveling to Santa Barbara. Sopper was convinced she could raise the required four million dollars to keep the program afloat. Now, a shocked team has dedicated its season to Sopper, wearing American flag ribbons and stars with an “M” in the middle on their uniforms to honor the coach.
“We just want her to know that we’re thinking about her and we wish she was here,” Gamm said.
The Gauchos showed their resiliency, remaining undaunted and reasonalby upbeat throughout the looming abolition of the program, the myriad injuries and the passing of Coach Sopper. Trimble said her inspiration stems from her final year as a Gaucho gymnast.
“My senior year was my best,” Trimble said. “When you know its your last season, you’ve got to put your aches and pains aside and go out and do your best.”
A young team that fields precocious freshmen such as Lesley Ross, who placed second in the vault competition, and Brittany Gard, who placed third on the floor exercise, the Gauchos gave an encouraging performance that hinted at an exciting season to come.