Towson women rebound, focus on championship

March 26, 1994|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

Before the season started, the national aspirations of the Towson State women's gymnastics team were taking a gigantic tumble.

Two returnees from the 1993 squad showed up with major injuries. Two freshmen that coach Dick Filbert was depending on were hampered by wrist problems -- one required immediate surgery and the other will need an operation after the season.

Then the lone senior, Kim O'Keefe, suffered a career-ending knee injury in the opening meet.

"Before we opened, I thought we'd be at the national championships for sure," Filbert said. "Then all this hit, and things were looking very bleak. Basically, we lost half the squad."

But the remaining Tigers have bonded nicely, and Towson will carry a No. 14 national ranking in Division I into tomorrow's quest for an unprecedented eighth straight ECAC championship at the University of Vermont.

"Two months ago I would have said we don't have a chance to win it again," Filbert said. "But under the circumstances, I think we can. We're talented enough, and now all the little factors come into play. I think New Hampshire [21st in the nation] is the only team that can beat us."

A number of positive factors have also influenced Filbert's team, including a successful rebound by junior Wendy Chalmers (Bowie), who missed last season, and the all-around consistency of sophomore Carrie Leger.

But none has been more helpful than the squad's ability to overcome the shortage of depth.

nTC "We pulled together very well with whatever we had left," junior Karen Sturek said. "We improved every time we went out. We always knew we'd do OK if we went into this together rather than as individuals."

Sturek, a co-captain, came to Towson as a volleyball player. She hadn't competed in gymnastics since the ninth grade, but Filbert heard about her from Tandy Knight, one of his former competitors, and enlisted her help. She has made a stirring comeback.

Chalmers, Leger, Sturek and freshman walk-on Erin Shanley have been the backbone of a team that broke the school record with a 192.850 score at Ohio State two weeks ago and ended its regular season with an 18-2 record. The foursome has been, well, all-around good.

"All of us feel the pressure," Sturek said. "But if one of us four doesn't have such a good one, we're confident that the others can pick her up.

"I don't think the coach expected as much as we've done. I think we surprised him. We had lost so many people, it was hard to deal with. We even surprised ourselves."

Sturek, an alumnus of the Hill's Angels Club in Silver Spring, is looking forward to the team and/or individuals qualifying for the nationals at the Southeast Regional, April 9 at West Virginia University.

"If we all hit all our routines we could do it," she said.

And Filbert also is feeling better about the possibilities of his team extending its ECAC run and then qualifying for the Division I nationals for the first time since 1990.

"I'm a lot more confident than I was a couple of months ago," he said. "It'll be close."

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