May 21, 2022
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Sports

Freshman class providing strong performances for gymnastics team

During the beginning of the 2022 Winter sports season, the Ithaca College gymnastics team has benefited from strong performances of its freshman class, with the young players taking a large step forward on the team and cementing their place on the roster for upcoming seasons. 

Head coach Rick Suddaby said while the team usually sees production from its freshman athletes, the current class took a big step in competition compared to previous freshman classes. He said it was something the team needed after having four upperclassmen graduate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Quite often you’ll get kids that will see action and be competitive right away,” Suddaby said. “But we had so many freshmen and we had lost so many to graduations and COVID[-19] that we really needed them to step up and they really have. And so it’s been really good. So they’re ahead of a normal freshman class.”

The roster carries 23 gymnasts in total, with 12 of the women being freshmen. Entering this season, Suddaby said he was confident that the new gymnasts joining the team would stand out from other freshman classes.

Once the team began practice, he was able to see where they were with their performance and knew who would stand out on the team. 

“Coming in, I had looked at video and that sort of thing, I could see where they were at and it was just a matter of projecting how ready we could get them,” Suddaby said. “We were able to get them ready, but we have quite a few standouts. Jillian [Freyman] stands out, Nicole [Lonski] stands out. She’s been in and out of an injury. And so she’s making her come back, but we really missed her when she was gone. Caitlin Pellegrino has been a really solid performer on the floor. And Marlena [Bailey] is solid on bars. So Marlena and Nicole, they’re really building our bar team.”

The freshman class showed its ability in competition throughout the season. Skye Cohen was selected as the All-Around gymnast of the week Feb. 14 for her performance in the Cornell Quad Meet, where she set a Division III season best score of 37.9000 points. The score was just .325 away from the program record, set by Lindsey Mazer in 1998.

Lonski scored a 9.750 on the uneven bars at the Rumble and Tumble meet Feb. 16, the highest score by all gymnasts. The score helped the Bombers to win three out of four events.

Lonski said despite an ankle injury she sustained at the end of January that limited her ability to compete, she found important growth in her competition through the strong connection the team has in practices. 

“I definitely think working with my teammates has been very helpful, all of us building each other up,” Lonski said. “I also think that our practices are very fun and fun to go to and work out. So it’s very motivating to have all these girls at practice.”

Freyman said she also found confidence coming into the season by gaining support from the upperclassmen of the team, from running routines with them to the moral support they provided the freshmen with during the season.

“There are a few girls that I usually practice balance beam with,” Freyman said. “[Junior] Nya Pauldon is really great. We usually try to do our routines together and keep ourselves accountable. And then the two seniors are absolutely fabulous leaders. They make sure that everyone feels encouraged and supported regardless of the day that they’re having or that regardless of the day that the rest of the team is having. They really try and uplift us every single day that we’re in the gym and every single time that we’re doing an event in a competition.”

In her first collegiate competition Jan. 15, Freyman posted a 9.325 on vault, tied for second on the team. She also led the team with a 9.575 on the floor exercise the same day. Since then, Freyman has become no stranger to leading the Bombers in events, outscoring her teammates nine times this season.

Freyman said she wanted to focus on her beam routine before competition started. She used the confidence that the upperclassmen gave her to post a personal-best 9.750 out of 10 score at the Cornell Quad Meet. To get there, she said work from the coaching staff helped her to make an impact this season.

“I did a lot of routine numbers,” Freyman said. “And then the coaching staff made sure that we did a lot of practice meets, and together that helped a lot to get me and most of the team ready.”

For Suddaby, the goal of working hard with his players in practice, on top of getting them ready for competition, is to condition the freshmen to take leadership roles on the team so they can better lead both their class and future classes. 

“We teach leadership to all levels, anywhere from the freshmen to the seniors, we teach that they’re leading by example,” Suddaby said. “So when these kids train with the other kids in their class, or even the upperclassmen, they train like them and they all succeed.”

Freshman Dallas Rachal, who dealt with a knee injury earlier this season, said Suddaby was instrumental in her return to competition, pushing her to do a little more every day until she was ready to return.

“He definitely had a big role because I was very nervous about coming back,” Rachal said. “So he helped me with steps on what I should do, starting with drills and then working my way back up to the vault. So he’s definitely been a key factor, asking me ‘Hey, are you feeling good? Hey, let’s try this and let’s see if we can push a little harder. If you can take it, let’s go a little further.’”

Lonski also talked about the importance that Suddaby has with the team, working with the team during practices and making sure that everybody is doing their best to get ready for competition. The coach’s guidance helped the team post a 9–7 regular season record this winter.

“Coach Suddaby has been very helpful with motivating us,” Lonski said. “He gives us corrections and makes practice a fun place to be. He definitely brings life into the gym and it’s a lot more exciting to go to practice every day.”

Suddaby’s leadership has helped players to gain more confidence in themselves throughout the season. The team scores reflect the improvement of the gymnasts over the season. Its scores have been mostly trending up since the first meet of the season.

Freyman said the senior leadership has helped her to better acclimate to college gymnastics, where competition is more focused around the team rather than individual performance, and made her more comfortable with her role on the team. 

“It gave me a lot [of confidence],” Freyman said. “I was definitely really nervous coming into college just because it’s a lot different than the gymnastics I grew up doing. But after seeing my performance and the team’s performance the past few competitions, I’m really confident in the season that we’re having right now, and the seasons that we’re going to have the rest of the time that I’m here.”

While the season has been positive for the freshmen on the team, Rachal said she knows she still has room to improve. She said she wants to focus more on getting physically ready to expand her competition, which was what she wanted to do this season before her knee injury halted her.

“Before next season, I definitely want to get my floor [routine] back to where it was,” Rachal said. “And also my bars and beam. I would like to start training those again to the point where I am competitive for lineups. So that’s my goal, just to get everything back to where it was before I hurt my knee.”

By seeing how this freshman class stayed competitive this season, Suddaby also is looking ahead to the future. The team will graduate just two seniors after the season, Amelia Bailey and Julia O’Sullivan, but both have been strong contributors to the program.

Suddaby believes that the freshman class can continue its growth to be the base of a strong team. He thinks they can help the team to become a powerful program soon.

“I’m confident,” Suddaby said. “This is my 35th team, so I know we’re going places. It’s kind of a question of how quickly we do it. We’re gonna see All-Americans. We’re going to push [to be] the top team in the league.”

Tobiah Zboray can be reached at tzboray@ithaca.edu