The Docksiders, the competitive arm of Maryland Gymnastics Inc. of Millersville, will be well represented at this week's fourth annual United States Independent Gymnastic Club national championship in Greensboro, N.C.
The four-day event, which begins tomorrow in the Greensboro Coliseum, will feature some of the nation's top gymnasts from anumber of the country's top private gymnastics clubs.
While the Docksiders have sent individuals to the event in the past, it was not until this season that the club qualified to send a four-member team to challenge for the club title.
Docksiders coach Mark Weber was not prepared to make any bold predictions, but rather viewed the opportunity as one that his team could build on for the future.
"For our first year out there as a team, I don't see us breaking into the top 10. But, I think we'll do a good enough job to finish between the top 15 and top 20," said Weber, who is in his eighth year with the Docksiders. "I'd like to see them go down there and just do like they've been doing all year long.
"We'll beat some teams, and we'll get some good experience out of it. Our team is at a point right now where within the next year or two they could break into thetop 10 or 15 in the country. This is kind of our first steppingstone."
Representing the Docksiders in the team competition will be Leigh Cappello, Kelly Duffy, Meghan Vernon and
Stefanie Light. The four gymnasts were chosen by Weber because of their "high scores and consistency."
"I think it's a great reward for them for working hardfor the last 10 months," said Weber, whose gymnasts practice an average of 18 to 22 hours a week. "It gives them a chance to go and get the rewards and recognition they really deserve."
The Docksiders also will send eight gymnasts in two divisions to compete for individual titles in each of the five events. Among those having qualified forthe open optional division (a competitive division with few restrictions) were Megan Nicolini, Stacy Jewett, Gemma Robison, Katie Roblyerand Kim Klinger.
Nicolini, a 16-year-old junior from Annapolis High
School making her second trip to the nationals, is being toutedas the most promising by her coach.
"I think she's got a really great chance of winning the national floor title," said Weber. "She's only been beaten two or three times this entire season, and she is one of the best tumblers in the country. She was sixth last year, and she's improved a lot. We think she's got a really good chance at winning the floor title."
Competing in the intermediate optionals (a more standardized division) will be 10-year-olds Amy Walton and Natile Bracciale and 15-year-old Krista Gole. The three acrobats will make their USIGC national debut in Greensboro, and Weber anticipates some initial anxiety.
"Some of the younger kids will be overwhelmed by the whole situation with the spotlights and the big crowds," said Weber. "These girls are used to having crowds of about one or two hundredpeople and now they'll be competing in front of several thousands."
Among those thousands will be college scouts. It is their attention that Nicolini, an 11th-grader at Annapolis High, hopes to draw.
"I'd like to make floor finals and all-around finals as well," said Nicolini. "I need to get things on my college resume."
Weber, who also coaches at Towson State University, believes he has a talented group of girls and is hoping that some are discovered in Greensboro.
"We anticipate getting a lot of national exposure," he said. "This national meet has helped some of our kids get scholarships in the past.
"A lot of the college coaches go to the national competition looking for prospective recruits."