With 45 percent of last year's lineup gone, Eagles adapt to change

Following a fourth place finish at last year's Mid-American Conference Championship, Jay Santos heads into his second year at the helm for the Eastern Michigan Eagles women’s gymnastics team.

The Eagles finished last season with an overall record of 13-5, with seniors Anna Willette and Carrina Lo Bello competing at NCAA Regionals in Columbus, Ohio. Santos was also named MAC Coach of the Year, the first time an EMU coach held the honor since Steve Wilce won in 1992.

The Eagles finished last season ranked 37, just missing NCAA Regionals, and will face four teams this season that finished ranked ahead of them in Michigan (6), Central Michigan (21), Maryland (30) and Ohio State (32).

After the graduation of five seniors (Lo Bello, Willette, Nikki Paterson, Polly Miller and Chantelle Loehner), Santos and the Eagles have lost 45 percent of last year’s lineup. Santos mentioned that they have “been talking about [it] for a while.”

“We’ve been talking to the kids that we knew had to step up that are here. We’ve been talking to the freshman about what they need to do to contribute," Santos said. “We’re going to need contributions from a lot of people."

Among the returning leadership are juniors Sydney McEachern and Lacey Rubin, who both competed in at least two events and Natalie Gervais who competed on beam. The Eagles will also look to lone senior Kimberly Ebeyer who will compete on balance beam this year and could also see some action on the vault and floor.

Last season, the Eagles had four of their six freshmen step up and slide into lineup roles immediately. That includes Rachel Slocum, Catie Conrad, Kendall Valentin and Julia Schwartz who all competed on multiple events.

“Catie Conrad has been doing a great job all preseason,” Santos said. “Kendall [Valentin] has great gymnastics and we will be leaning on her for multiple events.”

Conrad is expected to compete on the uneven bars, balance beam, vault and possibly floor this season while Valentin, who was named to the second team All-MAC last season, is expected to compete on bars, beam, vault and possibly floor.

Also in that class is Kirsten Gendron who only saw action once last year on floor but is expected to compete in multiple events this season.

But with all of the turnover in the lineups, there are opportunities open to both freshmen and returners.

Santos noted that both Gendron and redshirt sophomore Kelsie Brooks, who missed all of last year with an elbow injury, would be “in contention” for lineup spots.

“Both of them are in the talk for two to three events,” Santos said.

Santos also talked about the incoming freshman class, specifically Ciara Gresham.

“She’s really powerful,” Santos said. “At the intersquad, multiple people came up to me and talked about that."

Santos also mentioned freshman Megan Hultgren as someone who could make an impact right away.

“She’s got great beam as long as she avoids ‘freshman jitters’,” Santos said.

The Eagles will open up the season with an exhibition meet against the University of Michigan Dec. 6 2015 at 2 p.m. in Ann Arbor.

The regular season will start in Pittsburgh, Pa against the University of Pittsburgh, Towson University and the University of Maryland Jan. 10 2016 at 2 p.m.

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