SUU Gymnastics has begun the 2011 season among the nation's elite as the Thunderbirds have been picked No. 20 in the first national poll of the season.
And it’s a good thing, because the 2010 Western Athletic Conference Champions will face off against NCAA National Champs, UCLA, at the T-Birds’ home opener on Friday, January 14, at 7 p.m. in the Centrum Arena.
The competition will be stiff. The UCLA roster includes student-athletes who have competed on the U.S. Olympic team.
Athletic Director Ken Beazer says fans in attendance at the home opener will “see some of the best gymnasts in the world.”
And the T-Birds are prepared to come in flipping and are excited to start things off at the top.
Of this opportunity for SUU’s gymnasts, Head Coach Scott Bauman said, “We are stoked to be hosting the defending National Champions as our first home meet of the season. The fact that they would come to Cedar City is really an indication of how far our program has come and the respect that Southern Utah University has among the gymnastics community.”
Southern Utah is one of two teams in the Western Athletic Conference in the top-25 poll, joining No. 18 Boise State. The Thunderbirds finished the 2010 season ranked No. 18 in the nation.
"This is a great position for us," head coach Scott Bauman said. "We've finished high in the polls in the past and then didn't make the top 25 the next year. This shows the attention and respect that our program is gaining among coaches across the nation."
The pre-season poll is strictly made up of NCAA gymnastics coaches' votes. During the year the poll is based on team averages with the final weeks based on regional qualifying scores.
In addition to UCLA, SUU will face several teams in the top 25 during the year, including No. 22 Iowa State and No. 13 Missouri.
According to Bauman, Flippin’ Birds fans can expect a memorable season.
Though, according to Bauman, the team “will not be full strength at the beginning of the season because of injuries and other things,” Bauman is confident the team will remain competitive and looks forward to giving other girls time to “show what they can do.”
Bauman, who will mark his 20th season as Thunderbird Head Coach adds, “Make no mistake, when we get our full line-up and begin to step up, we will be a very, very tough and strong team.”
In preparation for the home opener, Bauman’s athletes will officially kick off their 2011 season when the T-Birds travel to Utah State on January 7.