BY JOE GORDEN
Once every four years, the Olympic spotlight shines on sports that get little attention otherwise, and people who seldom give those lesser-known sports a thought otherwise suddenly and briefly become fans. Likewise, the Olympics arouses interest among would-be athletes.
Gymnastics is, perhaps, the best example of a sport that benefits from an influx of both fans and participants during Olympic years.
“It’s a real big motivator for our gym,” said Brenda Uzelac, owner and head coach of Uzelac Gymnastics in Richland. “The parents see all this and want their kids to be little Olympians. It helps the gymnastic community at this time.”
But Uzelac Gymnastics was experiencing a good run even before the Olympic glow kicked in a few weeks ago. Thirty-eight gymnasts from the Richland facility – the entire team – qualified for the state meet, and six combined to bring home eight titles.
Amanda McGee captured Level 9 vault, Nicole Coukart took Level 4 all-around and balance beam, Aleah Kehn captured Level 4 all-around and balance beam, Morgan Gossard won Level 5 vault, Keyli Smith took Level 4 uneven bar and Courtney Mihalko won Level 4 uneven bar.
“This is probably our best year ever,” Uzelac said. “We have six state champions. For everyone to make it this year, and to have that many all-around and individual champions ... it was our best year.”
It being an Olympic year, the team got to celebrate in a special way.
“We went to Olympic Trials in Philadelphia, and they got to watch the trials and get autographs,” Uzelac said. “We watched the men’s and women’s competition, and two of my girls – Amanda McGee and Casey McGee – got to be runners on the floor working the meet for them.”
But, the success of Uzelac Gymnastics goes beyond that strong showing at the state level. The business also has benefited by moving from the Industrial Park to the former Richland Area High School and creating a partnership with the East Hills Recreation Commission.
“It’s working out for the better,” Uzelac said. “In two years, East Hills Rec is going to put up a large, multi-purpose building, and we’ll be part of their plans.”
Uzelac said there are “a couple hundred” students working out now at the gym, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years old.
“We have the knowledge to get them from the walking level to the Olympic level,” she said. “There’s not many coaches qualified to do that, but we’ve coached at that level and Kristal has competed at that level, so we offer that opportunity in our gym.”
Johnstown native Kristal Uzelac, Brenda’s daughter, is America’s only three-time national gymnastics champion. She was ranked third nationally and appeared headed for the 2000 Olympics before a change in the minimum age disqualified her. She was ranked No. 1 nationally in 2004, but a broken ankle just before the championships dashed her Olympic hopes. She received a concussion in 2005 after falling while training at Penn State, and later retired from competition, but now coaches and teaches gymnastics.
Results for Uzelac Gymnastic Team members in the state championships:
Champions: Amanda McGee, Level 9 vault; Nicole Coukart, Level 4 all-around, Level 4 balance beam; Aleah Kehn, Level 4 all-around, Level 4 balance beam; Morgan Gossard, Level 5 vault; Keyli Smith, Level 4 uneven bar; Courtney Mihalko, Level 4 uneven bar.
Level 9: Amanda McGee
Level 8: Casey Rose McGee, Brittany Dom
Level 7: Kaitlyn Kline, Kennedy Hanes, Eliya Dimond, Brittany Ruggeri
Level 6: Brianna Berkibile, Miranda Heinrich
Level 5: Erica Neuner, Abby Hanley, Morgan Gossard, Courtney Coppola, Essense Gunby
Level 4: Sierra Womer, Nicole Coukart, Aleah Kehn, Keyli Smith, Amber Botteicher, Sarah Polaeck, Elizabeth Hutsky, Allison Potts, Harleigh Hanes, Autumn Gossard, Autumn Schmidt
Level 3: Ali Pritt, Julia Taylor, Kristiana Cascino, Kara Dividock, Sydney Droz, Alaina Miller, Skyler Hostetler, Shelby Hostetler, Gretta George, Caroline Duppstadt
Novice op: Kara Himes, Nichole Cable, Kelly Vann
Coaches: Brenda Uzelac, Kristal Uzelac, Pilar Himes, Gina McGee, Kathy Vivian, Sherry Smith, Kelly Goncher
BY JOE GORDEN
- Local Sports
Tomlin hit with $100G fine
Here’s another adjective Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin can call his ill-timed two-step onto the field last Thursday night against Baltimore.
ACC-olades rolling in: Pitt’s Donald named league’s top defender
Pitt senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the national leader in tackles for loss, has been selected the 2013 Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Conference Sports Media Association (ACSMA).
Irish too much for Lady Lions
Natalie Achonwa had 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead No. 4 Notre Dame in a 77-67 victory over No. 10 Penn State on Wednesday night.
Mountain Hawks outlast Red Flash
Tim Kempton scored 18 points and pulled down a career-high 15 rebounds as Lehigh took down St. Francis 57-50 on Wednesday night.
UPJ volleyball heads to NCAA Division II Regional
The fifth-seeded Pitt-Johnstown women’s volleyball team will open its first ever berth in the NCAA Division II Regional Tournament against fourth-seeded Shippensburg University beginning today at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Big second half leads UPJ past host Clarion
Nate Snodgrass scored 18 points, and Pitt-Johnstown outscored Clarion by 20 points over the final 16 minutes to earn a 78-68 comeback victory in the PSAC on the road.
Lady Cats get first PSAC win
Pitt-Johnstown built an 18-point halftime advantage en route to a 98-81 win at Clarion that earned the Lady Cats the program’s first PSAC victory.
- Local sports in brief 12/05/2013
On a high note: Penn State ends year with win, holds off Wisconsin rally in upset
A bright future for Penn State emerged on a cool, crisp day in the Midwest.
Bruins snap skid against Pens
The surging Boston Bruins said they weren’t fazed by Sidney Crosby’s last-second goal. They proved it in overtime.
Torey Krug scored 34 seconds into OT and the Bruins beat Pittsburgh 4-3 on Monday night, snapping a seven-game, regular-season losing streak to the Penguins in a matchup of the Eastern Conference’s top two teams.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Tomlin hit with $100G fine