To build a successful program in any sport, it helps to have a group of dedicated athletes who are focused on growing together and honing their skills.
The Marshall gymnastics team appears to possess that, but the Tigers are still very, very young.
Last year, Lindsay Wolff took over a Marshall team that had just one high schooler on the roster. The rest of the gymnasts were seventh- and eighth-graders. That one high schooler (Stephanie St. Aubin) graduated, but now this year there are eight high schoolers on the roster. They just all happen to be freshmen.
Wolff said she learned a lot about leading a program last season and saw her young gymnasts make great progress from the start of the season until the end. While observing her team through the first few weeks of practice of the 2012-13 season, she has noticed that her young team has matured quickly.
"Stephanie was a big help last year and we hated to see her leave, but the girls coming back this year have a great attitude," said Wolff, whose Marshall squad opens the season with a home dual against Benson/Kerkhove-Murdock-Sunburg at 6 p.m. today. "We have one new seventh-grader this year and they've all stepped up and have taken her under their wings. They're not acting their age, they seem like they've been doing gymnastics and competing for years."
The Tigers' maturity has shown up in their work ethic. Many of them got over the first-year jitters of competing on the varsity stage last season while going up against more veteran teams. Now, they don't want to use their youth as an excuse. They've put in extra training to try to close the gap between themselves and the opposition.
"They know what's expected in their routines, what's required in their routines and a lot of them knew they had potential to start competing better with the other teams in our section," Wolff said, "and this summer all of them went to a camp of some sort and all worked really hard doing summer gymnastics through the community rec program. Coming back, we could start the season right where we ended last year and start adding tricks into our routines. That was a big plus."
Marshall doesn't have a senior to rely on for leadership this season, but Wolff said leadership is definitely not lacking from the squad. Freshmen Natalie Rademacher and Ella Kovash have been named team captains, while Wolff said freshman Meg Ellis and eighth-graders Hailey Aguirre and Nicole Deragisch have also taken on leadership roles.
"Those five, I'd say they have really stepped up and have been helping the other gymnasts make their routines, and they're really working to push the girls in practice to make sure they're working hard and not sitting around," Wolff said.
Inconsistency is generally a trait that accompanies youth. It's also something that is reduced with repetition. Wolff said some of her gymnasts have already shown that they have a shot at being dependable scorers.
"I think we're going to have at least two or three solid all-arounders for us this year," she said. "We're definitely going to count on Nicole Deragisch and Meg Ellis, those two are going to be solid all-arounders for us. We also have Natalie (Rademacher), who is very good on bars for us, and we just have to work on a couple of things with her tumbling on the floor and stuff, but she'll probably be another all-arounder for most of the meets. Then Hailey Aguirre, she will probably do all-around for a couple of meets with us, too."
Wolff said she wishes the team had another week of practice, but feels the Tigers just need to get themselves into "competition mode" and they will be fine for tonight's season opener.