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Warrior gymnastics coaches providing individual attention

Fallbrook High School’s gymnastics team will win few (if any) dual meets this year, as the four-member varsity squad doesn’t field enough gymnasts for the Warriors to receive a full team score. But for co-coaches Kayla Alonso and Janeva Sandoval, whose gymnasts also include seven junior varsity competitors and one varsity team member recovering from an injury, the small team is a chance to provide individual attention to the program’s young participants.

“Since it’s a small team we get to spend so much more time with them,” Alonso said. “It’s kind of cool for them that they get as much time as they do with the coaches.”

The Warriors finished sixth at the CIF meet in 2008, when both Alonso, then a senior, and Sandoval, a junior, were on the squad. Fallbrook finished seventh at the 2009 CIF meet. Since six varsity gymnasts are scored to produce the team total, Alonso and Sandoval have no expectations of returning to CIF as a team or even of being competitive during dual meets.

“This season has been a lot more focused on them individually and their individual scores,” Alonso said.

“They’re definitely learning from what they’ve seen,” Alonso said. “They’ve improved every single meet. Their scores have gone up.”

An April 3 invitational at Mount Carmel followed three dual meets. At the invitational, sophomore Krystal Schmid scored 9.4 points on the floor exercise to place second among compulsory gymnasts and scored 9.3 points on the bars for second place in the compulsory competition. Junior Bryanna Cusimano, who is Fallbrook’s optional gymnast this year, scored 7.7 on her floor routine to take sixth.

At the compulsory level, three all-around scores of at least 35 points during the season qualify an individual gymnast for the CIF meet, and Schmid has already attained three such scores. Katie Smith, who is new to the varsity this year, already has one nine-point performance on the beam.

The junior varsity routines aren’t as difficult as the varsity compulsory exercises, but at the invitational all of Fallbrook’s JV competitors scored at least eight points on both their floor routines and their vault performances. “They have gotten insanely better since the beginning of the season,” Sandoval said.

Neither Sandoval nor Alonso was on the varsity team when Debbie Mericle took over as Fallbrook’s coach in 2006. Mericle had three varsity gymnasts in her first season as the Warriors’ coach. By the time Alonso, who was home schooled through tenth grade, joined the varsity in 2007, the Warriors had a full varsity team. “It definitely helped seeing everything she’s done,” Alonso said of Mericle.

Sandoval, who spent the spring 2007 CIF season as a diver on Fallbrook’s swim team, joined the varsity in 2008 and was Fallbrook’s optional gymnast during her two years on the team.

Heather Hawthorne also joined the program in 2008 as Fallbrook’s assistant coach. Mericle, who had a daughter in the program and agreed to coach the team due the lack of anyone else willing to take over the team, made Hawthorne a co-coach in 2009.

After training Hawthorne on the administrative duties of being an official head coach, Mericle stepped down from her coaching position, although she has made herself available for advice to the current coaches.

Hawthorne is Fallbrook’s official head coach for 2010, but on March 26 she gave birth to a baby boy, Sawyer, so Sandoval and Alonso will complete the year as the team’s instructors.

“It’s been challenging being in a leadership position now and being with most of the same girls. It’s been a little bit hard just because they kind of see me as a teammate, not a coach,” Alonso said.

Sandoval currently attends Palomar College. Alonso is now at Cal State University San Marcos.

“It’s weird but it’s fun,” Sandoval said of coaching the team on which she competed last year.

Although Sandoval had not previously coached at the high school level, she has club coaching experience with Pacific Coast Gymnastics. Sandoval spent eight years as a club gymnast.

The gymnastics team began the 2010 season March 17 with a meet at Rancho Bernardo. “The girls were all really nervous,” Alonso said.

“Most of our girls had never competed before,” Alonso said. “We had a few girls that had never even done gymnastics before.”

Although the new gymnasts had learned some routines, they had never previously been scored. “They were all really afraid of the judges,” Alonso said.

The gymnasts also had spectators, unlike the practice sessions. “They didn’t buckle under the pressure or anything,” Alonso said.

On March 26 the Warriors traveled to Mount Carmel for a dual meet against the Sundevils. In addition to providing the gymnasts with experience, the meet also gave Alonso and Sandoval the benefit of coach-to-coach interaction with Mount Carmel coach Monique Lamphiere-Tamayoshi, who chairs the CIF’s Gymnastics Advisory Committee, organizes the CIF meet, is the league advisor for the Avocado League, and was the 2005-06 state gymnastics coach of the year.

Fallbrook’s next dual meet was at home March 31 against Westview. “We had never run a meet before, so that was kind of scary,” Alonso said.

Cusimano and Schmid are the only varsity gymnasts who were on last year’s varsity. “I’m really proud of the girls and I’m really excited to see how much they’ve progressed,” Alonso said. “I’m just hopeful that our team will grow.”

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