The Ithaca gymnastics team wins the national championship to cap its best season ever.
by Mike Warwick
By nearly any measure, Ithaca's performance at the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association championship meet, hosted by Rhode Island College, was the program's best. The Bombers set two meet and two team records, five athletes earned 11 all-American honors (including a pair of national championships), five were named to the NCGA's all-academic team, and Coach Rick Suddaby was named the organization's coach of the year.
But the measure that counted most to the Bombers was the team standings -- and they stood tall. The team edged defending champion Wisconsin-La Crosse by two-tenths of a point to win the 1998 NCGA title. The championship was the program's first and capped Ithaca's best season ever.
"All season long, the girls and the coaches had set their sights on winning the team championship," said Suddaby. "We knew that if we remained focused on that goal, individual honors and accolades would come along."
Best in the Country
Ithaca's combined score of 148.875 was the best ever recorded at the NCGA meet. The Bombers won only one of four events (the uneven bars) but placed second in each of the other three (vault, balance beam, and floor exercise). For Ithaca, which had placed second in the 1997 meet by 2.4 points, the winning margin wasn't measured in inches, but in feet. Literally. "With our team performing 24 routines, if just one of the girls had stumbled on just one of her dismounts, that would've cost us those two-tenths of a point -- and we'd have gone home with frowns instead of crowns," explained Suddaby.
Leading the way were sophomore Lindsey Mazer and senior Jen Nardone. The two, who took turns all season atop the NCGA all-around rankings, placed first and third, respectively, in the all-around competition. Mazer's 38.225 score set both school and NCGA championship records. Nardone posted a mark of 37.175.
The team's depth was a factor. During the team competition, 12 Bombers qualified for the individual event finals. Ithaca's success continued the next day as 11 athletes posted all-American finishes (by placing in the top six). The showing was again highlighted by Mazer. She won her second championship of the meet with a score of 19.150 on the vault.
The 1997 NCGA champion in the floor exercise, Mazer became the second Ithaca athlete ever to win three career individual championships, and with two years left she's within striking distance of the NCGA career record of five. "For Lindsey to have a meet like that, to show that she's the best gymnast in the country, was well deserved," said Suddaby.
Mazer also placed second in the balance beam and uneven bars. Nardone took third in the balance beam and sixth in the vault. Seniors Kathy Kowalski and Becky Davis placed fifth and sixth, respectively, in the balance beam. Rounding out Ithaca's all-Americans was senior Alison McClung, who finished sixth in the uneven bars.
Davis, Kowalski, McClung, Nardone, and Kristen Hovland also were named to the NCGA all-academic team, which honors seniors who have a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better.
"We really finished strong in our last two meets," said Suddaby. "That put us on the right track for nationals." In their last two competitions before the NCGA meet, the Bombers closed out the regular season by scoring a season-high 182.925 points in a triangular meet with Bridgeport and Division I Pittsburgh, then successfully defended their Eastern College Athletic Conference championship. At the ECAC meet, Mazer placed first in the floor exercise and all-around competition and Nardone won the balance beam to lead Ithaca to its fifth title in six years.
Ithaca posted a 7-2 record during the season, losing only to two Division I teams (Pittsburgh and Cornell). The Bombers set 11 team and individual records and were the NCGA's top-ranked team all season. "It really was a great season," said Suddaby. The women "learned every possible lesson, they broke records time and time again, and they did all the things they had to do."
Individual photos, top to bottom: Record breakers Becky Davis '98, Jen Nardone '98, and Lindsey Mazer '00, make winning look easy.
Photos by Tim McKinney