At the end of last season, Towson State women's gymnastics coach Dick Filbert bid farewell to three of the top six scorers in Tigers history and wondered aloud how his program would remain in the national picture.
Senior Wendy Weaver, the Tigers' best all-around performer ever, and junior Gabby Linarducci have overcome injury and illness, respectively, to put together career-best seasons. Towson State, however, wouldn't be ranked No. 11 in the nation, breaking records every time out and seeking its sixth straight Eastern College Athletic Conference title tomorrow, if Wendy Chalmers had not transferred in from Alabama.
Chalmers, a sophomore from Bowie who lost her Crimson Tide scholarship, will be relied on for all-around points when the Tigers compete in the ECAC championships at New Hampshire tomorrow night. It is a meet they have owned since moving up to Division I in 1987, and a building block toward the NCAA Southeast Regional at Florida on April 11.
Chalmers won the Towson State Invitational last month and has been second to Weaver in three of the past four meets, nailing a 38.55 score against Temple on March 4 that is the best in Tigers history by anyone other than Weaver. She has seasonal bests of 9.70 in the vault, bars and beam, and 9.8 in the floor exercise, numbers that have helped erase memories of last year, when she was on the brink of retirement.
"A year ago, I was living a nightmare," said Chalmers. "When I left Alabama, I didn't think I had any options."
Despite the rapid gains Towson State has made in the sport, the Tigers rarely get elite gymnasts such as Chalmers directly out of high school. A Navy brat who was born in Florida and lived in Guam, Maine and England before settling in Bowie, Chalmers developed all the necessary credentials while competing for the Marva Teens Gymnastics Club.
Chalmers was recruited by the big names that excel in the sport. After visiting the campus on a football weekend, she chose Alabama over Florida, Utah and UCLA. She competed in 10 meets for the Crimson Tide last year, but was off the team by the time Alabama won the NCAA championship meet at home.
"My grades weren't very good, and I didn't adjust well," Chalmers said. "I was suspended from the team for not following team rules, but at the beginning of the season, none were presented to me. There were a lot of rumors flying around."
Marva Teens coach Mike DiLeo and Towson State assistant Lynda LaMonica brought Chalmers and Filbert together, and a one-year trial apparently will turn into three. Chalmers settled her academic status by taking two courses last summer and is thriving in an atmosphere where there is little negative reinforcement.
"It's not uncommon for scholarships not to be renewed in this sport," Filbert said. "I'm only getting one side of the story, but I think Wendy didn't compete up to Alabama's expectations. We're just trying to rebuild her confidence and self-esteem."