Recruiting is how you fix all that ails you. That’s the philosophy of Arizona gymnastics head coach John Court. After five years on the job (and a sixth as the interim head coach), Court feels like they have gotten enough recruits on board that they can begin competing on a national level.
The WCGA agrees that this is a team worthy of national attention. The preseason poll has the GymCats ranked No. 25 heading into the season. In fact, every one of the eight Pac-12 schools that sponsors women’s gymnastics is ranked. In short, the national voters think Arizona is the eighth-best team in the Pac-12—and that still makes them one of the best teams in the country.
Arizona ended last year ranked No. 26 by Road to Nationals. The site maintains rankings based on the teams’ national qualifying scores earned during the season. Those are the scores that determine who gets into the postseason.
For the GymCats, getting to this point was about building depth. Just a few years ago, the team was heavily reliant on underclassmen. Freshmen and sophomores were pushed into competition immediately simply because the depth didn’t exist on the roster.
That depth should be especially important on vault. It was the event that kept the team from getting victories on several occasions last season. It’s been somewhat of an Achilles heel for several years, in fact. But the GymCats enter the season with many of the newest vaulters dealing with injuries.
“If something doesn’t exist, there’s no magic beans that I can put outside in the grass,” Court said. “It has to be addressed through recruiting...1,000%. These freshmen—Jordan [Schultz], Emma [Strom], and Sophia [Summers] are all vaulters and they’re good vaulters that just came in a little bit banged up. So it has been a focus on vault in the recruiting process when it comes to especially multi-year offers, where if you can’t vault, you’re not getting an offer out of me.”
On the plus side, Arizona now has the depth that it’s not as devastating to have so many of the freshmen sidelined with injuries. In 2020-21, the GymCats had just four upperclassmen on the entire roster; the freshmen and sophomores were responsible for most of the routines. This season, they returned 23 of the 24 routines from last season. That group includes a pair of gymnasts who have competed at the NCAA National Championships.
Two years ago, current senior Malia Hargrove advanced to nationals as an individual on floor exercise. As a sophomore, she earned a 9.8625 in the year’s final meet.
Arizona followed that up by sending current senior Sirena Linton to nationals last season as an individual on balance beam. She emerged as a WCGA Second Team All-American by finishing tied for seventh with a score of 9.9125. Since she was just a junior, she has at least one more opportunity to get back there and try to take home a title either as an individual or with the team.
The depth Arizona has this year is allowing them to do something unique at their annual showcase despite the injuries to their freshmen. It will be an actual competition between two teams this year. In the past, it was simply an individual demonstration of skills. There weren’t enough gymnasts to create two competitively-balanced teams most years, so they didn’t attempt to break it into two teams. Now, it’s more like the traditional Red-Blue game presented by volleyball and men’s basketball or the spring game presented by football.
Once the season starts, that depth will allow some new people to compete and some experimentation with the order of the lineup.
“Definitely a lot of depth,” said junior Caroline Herry. “A lot of competition for the lineup this year, which is really good. It makes everybody in the lineup a lot better.”
The showcase will be held at 2 p.m. MST on Saturday, Dec. 10 at McKale Center.
The team will see how their depth affects them in competition when it travels to Ohio State to take on the Buckeyes, the Kentucky Wildcats, and the Greenville Panthers on Jan. 8.
The showcase will be the only opportunity for fans to see the team in McKale Center until Jan. 14. The GymCats will host Illinois, Texas Women’s, and Bowling Green before jumping into Pac-12 competition.