Gymnastics edges West Virginia in their home opener

Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

Get to know Terrapins' All-American Katy Dodds and read how an improbable comeback fueled Maryland's 193.675 - 193.500 victory over the Mountaineers.

The Maryland Terrapins, led by All-Americans Stephanie Giameo and Katy Dodds opened their home season hosting the West Virginia Mountaineers. Maryland edged WVU 193.675 to 193.500 in an up and down meet that finished more up than down for the Terps.

Like many little girls Maryland gymnast Katy Dodds started taking ballet lessons at a very young age. Dodds, in fact, was three. Unlike many little girls, Dodds spent so much time doing handstands against the mirrors that she was frequently excused from class. "That's when my dad told my mom ‘we've got to put her in gymnastics'," Dodds told me in a recent interview. Thus was born her eighteen year love affair with the sport.

"I tried other sports like baseball and soccer a little but gymnastics was always my passion." And like many girls with a passion for gymnastics, the senior from Gaithersburg had Olympian aspirations. She trained at Hill's Gymnastics where she watched the likes of Dominique Dawes and Courtney Kupets and dreamed that that's where she would one day be. Then in her freshman tear of high school, disaster struck. "It was in practice. I was doing a 2 ½ twist to a front punch tuck and when I landed I couldn't breathe or stand up. (Follow the link to see what that skill looks like.) My mom took me to a back specialist and we found out that I'd fractured my back in two different places and had herniated disks from so many years of gymnastics. I had a series of epidurals and no gymnastics for a year and a half."

Still, her love of the sport brought her back into the gym to give it another try but after a few days of trying, the pain was too great and she thought she'd quit gymnastics for good. "I told my parents. I cleaned out my locker and then went in to tell my coach, Kelli Hill. She said I wasn't allowed to quit. She told me that after a year and a half I had to give her six weeks to try and make me stronger and after that if I still wanted to quit she'd let me. We fought and argued for about two hours and there lots of tears and a lot of yelling. In the end I gave her those six weeks. After all, she'd coached Olympians. I spent about seven and a half hours a day rehabbing and practicing and at the end of those six weeks I had almost all my skills back."

Dodds would put those skills to use anchoring the Terps as they opened their first home meet of the season against West Virginia Friday night on the event that earned her All-American status as a junior, the vault. Stephanie Giameo led things off for Maryland with a 9.725. Redshirt senior Karen Tang followed with a 9.70. Next up Aussie freshman Nikki Chung registered a 9.75. Karen's younger sister Kathy took the next leap and added a team high 9.85 to Maryland's total. Freshman Sarah Faller failed to land cleanly and scored 9.45. Finally Dodds took the long run down the mat on her full layout Yurchenko. This is not only a high skill level vault but one on which she set a school record last year on her first vault coming back just a month after a partial achilles tear. "The intrasquad was the only meet I've ever missed at Maryland. When I came back for that first meet, I wanted to come back with a vengeance. I wanted to prove to my coaches that I was ready for the season. Dodds is still rounding into shape on her vault this season but still managed to score 9.825. West Virginia competed on the uneven bars and finished their rotation with a team score of 48.775 giving the Terps a slim .075 lead after the first rotation.

The teams traded apparatuses with Maryland moving to the uneven bars and the Mountaineers taking to the vault. Senior Elizabeth Manzi led off for Maryland scoring a 9.65. That set a pattern for the Terps as Sarah Faller and Giameo followed with similar scores of 9.6 and 9.625 respectively. Dodds, who told me she feels she needs to be a leader in every event, picked things up a bit for Maryland registering a 9.7 and Kathy Tang followed with a routine that earned her a 9.75 score. Karen Tang anchored the Terps with a team high 9.775. However, the Mountaineers had a strong session on the vault and led the meet by .325 after two rotations.

Maryland moved to the beam and WVU to the floor for the third rotation. This is the one event Dodds sits out. "It's mostly a result of my injuries. I've tried to compete on the beam but I'm stronger in the other events and landing on one leg they way you have to do sometimes can aggravate my back so I can't do my best in the other events."

As a team, the Terps struggled on the beam Friday night though Faller got them off to a solid 9.65 start and Dani Kram followed with a 9.525. Elizabeth Manzi had a fall in her routine and Ebony Walters had both a major bobble and a fall. While Manzi scored an 8.95, Walters had an event low of 8.725. After the meet, coach Brett Nelligan said, "Ebony actually hit a great routine last week. She was kind of off in warm-ups and we were hoping she'd make the adjustment."

Here's a spot where a gymnastics coach is different from say a basketball coach. Nelligan would have to have made the decision to substitute another gymnast before Walters stepped to the beam. He said, "We talked about a substitution but Ebony is a competitor and I expected her to pull it together. She's done it numerous times."

Shannon Skochko's 9.525 got Maryland back on track and Stephanie Giameo picked up a 9.75 that would earn her the win in the event. However, while Maryland was scoring a 47.4 on their beam rotation, West Virginia scored a 48.4 on the floor putting the Terps in a deep 1.325 point hole with only one rotation remaining.

"After beam we got together and said, in our house, when we're home we have to fight to the finish," Nelligan said. So we made a commitment as a team that all six competitors were going to fight for every tenth," he added.

Stephanie Giameo, another 2013 All-American, got the Terps started with a respectable 9.45 score while, on beam, WVU scored an 8.925. Quickly, their lead was down to 0.800. While Erica Smith scored 9.55 on the beam for the Mountaineers, Emily Baruckmuller gave the Terrapins a real lift with a strong 9.725.Two gymnasts into the rotation and the lead had been shaved by more than half. Karen Tang one upped Brauckmuller putting up a 9.775 score. Although WVU's Nicolette Swoboda scored a very solid 9.65 the team lead had narrowed to a mere half point halfway through the rotation.

Despite West Virginia getting their best score on the beam with a 9.65, when Kathy Tang hit a 9.85 routine the Terps had whittled a full point off the Mountaineers' team lead. In the fifth spot, Ebony Walters rewarded Coach Nelligan's belief in her competitiveness matching Baruckmuller's 9.725 while WVU suffered a fall and received a 9.3, the Terps had captured a small one-tenth of a point lead. The meet had come down to the two anchors on the final exercise. Beth Deal for West Virginia and Katy Dodds for Maryland. "I enjoy going in the anchor spot on vault and floor," Dodds told me several weeks ago. "I like that it's a high pressure spot." Dodds responded with her best score of the night, matching Kathy Tang's 9.85 while Deal stumbled on her mount, falling off the beam. Maryland's comeback was complete. The Terps had improved on their score last week at Central Michigan and had secured the team victory by a 193.675 to 193.500 margin.

Though she wasn't born in Maryland, she grew up in Gaithersburg and considers herself a Marylander. So here's one more thing you should know about Katy Dodds: As a result of her continuing to compete in Terrapins' gymnastics, she'll have back problems her entire life. I asked her if the juice was worth the squeeze. She responded, "It was most definitely worth it. I wouldn't trade my college experience and being a part of this team for anything. I've learned so much about myself and created a family with friends I'll have for the rest of my life. And nothing can compare to the thrill of competing with the Maryland name on my leotard. I'm so proud to represent this state and this school. I would do it all over again."

The Terps take to the road for their next two meets at North Carolina and New Hampshire. Your next chance to see Dodds and her teammates at Comcast Center will be Monday February 10 when they host Pitt, Towson, and George Washington.

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