Take the title from the cheesy flick “Season on the Brink” and apply it to the gymnastics teams at UCSB; suddenly, you have a riveting story of programs with a bleak future that caught Santa Barbara’s attention with strong performances.
The men’s team, led by a solid core of upperclassmen, finished the season with an 11-16 record – not impressive on the surface. Yet when you take into account that they broke 24 school records during the season, this may have been the best team to ever grace the halls of Rob Gym.
“I have said all along this team had the potential to be the best in school history,” UCSB men’s Head Coach Mircea Badulescu said. “By season’s end, coaches from opposing schools were agreeing that this is the best team UCSB has ever fielded and the results show it: we had eight gymnasts reach the NCAAs, the highest number ever.”
Senior co-captain Michael Kelley was the most consistent Gaucho for Santa Barbara all season. Coaches from around the country recognized Kelley’s talent, voting him as a finalist for the Nissen-Emery Award, which is given to the top gymnast in the country. Kelley leaves Santa Barbara with three school records, one in the individual all-around (52.175) and two more on the parallel bars (8.45) and still rings (8.900).
The key to UCSB’s success this season was its junior class. Five gymnasts became the driving force behind all the accolades of the 2002 squad.
“They were really the most important part of our team this year,” Kelley said. “Look at the record books. They own four school records, which they broke and then reset numerous times this season.
Junior Geoffrey Howell owns the school record on the vault at 9.400. Howell claimed the national title on the vault at the USA Gymnastics Championships, at which UCSB finished second in the country.
Santa Barbara boasts another national champion on the high bar in junior Donald Mahr. Mahr holds the school record of 9.300 on the high bar. Howell and fellow junior Stephen Smith share the school record on the floor exercise at 8.800.
The question that looms for the juniors is whether or not they will return to UCSB.
“They plan to cancel our program on the NCAA level, but we should remain as a club team,” Badulescu said. “I know some of our athletes have looked into transferring to another NCAA sponsored school, but I expect most of them to return and compete at the club level with me.”
Badulescu sees the future of men’s gymnastics at the NCAA level drawing to a close in the near future.
“So many programs have been cut for either monetary reasons like ours or Title IX,” he said. “So few actually remain now that I feel the NCAA will cancel the sport soon and the future will only be on the club level.”
For the women’s team, the final road was a bit more bumpy but a success in the end. Led by the consistency of junior Ryanne Strohm, who was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Conference Gymnast of the Year, the Gauchos remained competitive and improved from meet to meet.
“I was very impressed with the tenacity of our girls this year,” UCSB women’s Head Coach Alanna Trimble said. “Ryanne and [senior] Jen Rudy led this team all year and wouldn’t let them get down when injuries or disappointments came.”
While Badulescu expects to return leading a club team, Trimble decided to end this chapter of her life at Santa Barbara.
“I think it is time for me to move on, and more importantly, I am ready,” Trimble said. “I thank [UCSB Athletic Director] Gary Cunningham and the entire staff for their help and for extending to me the offer of a lifetime. I will miss these girls, many of which I competed with, but I am ready to move on.”