Determined dismount Seniors who helped vault Towson gymnastics working toward final hurrah

April 03, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

Fullbacks qualify. So do catchers and power forwards.

A not-so-dainty description is also the one Dick Filbert uses when he talks about three seniors who have been vital to Towson State's rise in women's gymnastics.

"They're workhorses," Filbert said.

"If you ask how we went from Division II to I, they took us to the next level. A lot of good things happened, but the freshmen class from three years ago had a huge impact. This program has been going since 1967, and they're three of our top six scorers all-time."

When Tandy Knight, Carri Scott, Anne Sugden and Anne Zografos entered Towson State in the fall of 1987, they came in with many accomplishments and expectations.

A walk-on who never completely came back from a severe knee injury she suffered in high school, Zografos retired and moved to track and field two years ago. The others have contributed through turned ankles, jammed fingers and subsequent recruiting classes that were supposed to replace them. Sugden has actually gotten better with age.

Knight, Scott and Sugden, year-round gymnasts for roughly two-thirds of their lives, are preparing for the end of their careers. Towson State goes to the Southeast Regional at Georgia Saturday, where it will try to qualify for the NCAA championships April 19-20 in Alabama, even if it means more trips to the physical therapist.

"My body is ready to retire," said Knight, the Tigers' all-time leading scorer with more than 1,740 points, "but mentally I'm not. I don't want to leave."

Sugden is the Tigers' No. 3 career scorer with more than 1,440 points, and Scott stands No. 6 with close to 1,200. They were swept into the sport in the wake of Olga Korbut, and were committed by age 7 or 8, when Nadia Comaneci was the designated heroine. They are not exiting quietly.

"A lot of gymnasts their age reach a plateau where you're satisfied, and they begin to coast," Filbert said. "Every time this group reached a plateau, they asked, 'What's next?' Each year I brought more hotshot freshmen in, and each year they reacted. They were never satisfied to take last year's work and live off of that.

"Anne Sugden is going to be retiring in two weeks, but she's killing herself learning a new vault. That's the story of Anne. That's how she's going to be all her life."

A 21-year-old from Millersville who went to Old Mill High, Sugden came out of the Docksiders' club as an expert worker on the uneven parallel bars. At first a no-show on the balance

beam, she gradually gained greater proficiency, and won the event at the ECAC championships March 23 with a 9.60 score that is one of the best in Towson State history.

"I'm 21 years old, and I'm just peaking," said Sugden, who thi season posted the four best all-around scores of her career. "That isn't supposed to happen in this sport. What really helped was we weren't burned out when we got here."

All of the seniors came to Towson State with solid credentials, but none was ever close to representing the United States in an international competition. Scott was actually the top recruit, as she came out of Pinellas Park, Fla., after qualifying for the nationals in 1986 and 1987.

Sugden and Knight, a native of Takoma Park who came up through the Hill's Angels Club, were club rivals, but a notch below the Olympic-caliber kids.

"It's funny," Sugden began. "We'll go to major competitions, look around at the other teams and say, 'She used to beat me, that one used to beat me.' We've matured in confidence, presence."

These acrobats have worked with a net, a team that five years ago was a decent Division II program but now is shooting for its second straight top 10 finish in Division I. Before the seniors came in and similar talent followed, Towson State was elated with a team score of 179 out of a possible 200. The Tigers won their fifth straight ECAC title with a record 189.55.

"It's a totally different sport here than when I was a kid," Knight said. "When you're young and on your own, if you mess up, there's no chance for recognition. If you mess up here, the person behind you can pick you up. There's still pressure, but it's better pressure."

Maintaining a place on the Tigers' ladder drives them through FTC workouts and to the training room, where they are treated for a variety of ailments. Knight, who has never missed a Tigers meet, ignores the pain in her back and right knee. Sugden and Scott, whose career was nearly halted by a 1989 ankle injury, both suffer shin problems that are most likely stress fractures.

The physical hardships helped nudge Zografos into retirement after the 1989 season. Her senior year of high school at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was spent recuperating from an anterior cruciate tear. She has bookend scars around her right knee, a five-inch scar below and a four-inch one above.

She was a regular scorer as a freshman, but left school for personal reasons as a sophomore and couldn't afford a second comeback when she returned to Towson State later in 1989. Zografos instead switched to track and field, where she hurdles and jumps for the Tigers. She misses gymnastics dearly, and is seeking a way back into the sport.

"I'd like to work with gymnasts, maybe on the club level," said Zografos, a double major in psychology and physical education. "The ultimate would be the sports psychologist for the Olympic team."

Psychology is the major of choice.

Knight and Scott, roommates as freshmen and seniors, are Psych majors with cumulative grade-point averages over 3.30. Sugden is a double major, in math and computer science. Her 3.793 cumulative GPA is second on the team to junior Wendy Weaver. Scott, Sugden and Weaver have been All-American scholar-athletes the last two years."

"We're pretty serious people," Scott said.

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