When Ashley Shible (East Lake) visited the University of Denver, the school and its surroundings were a perfect fit for the two-time Level 10 national vault champion.
"Being there seemed such a natural thing," said Shible, 18. "I've adapted to the weather _ the snow is fine _ and everyone is so nice here."
Shible is having a stellar freshman season with the Pioneers. She has set some school records in individual events and all-around performances and has won 17 overall titles up to this weekend's Pioneer Classic, which includes five-time national champion Georgia.
"Ashley is just having an incredible year," said third-year Denver coach Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart. "We had high expectations for Ashley, and she's just had a great season. The experience she and the other three freshman are getting is our foundation for the future."
Last year, the Pioneers missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by a mere .025 points. This season, with performances from Shible and her teammates, Kutcher-Rinehart is looking forward to a national berth.
"We lost five seniors last year, plus the loss of All-American Jenny Ebdon this season to a season-ending ACL injury," Kutcher-Rinehart said. "So, Ashley and the rest of team have had some extra pressure, and they have risen to it."
Kutcher-Rinehart, originally from North Miami Beach, excelled in gymnastics at the University of Florida and coached there in 1993. She coached at the University of Michigan for five years before going to Denver in 1998.
Before her high school graduation, Shible trained at the Gemini School of Gymnastics in Oldsmar where she developed her signature vault techniques.
"We were just playing around with different things on the vault," said Shible, a biology major. "Vault is my favorite event anyway, so we were just experimenting."
Shible's experimentation paid off. She scored a 10 on vault in a meet with Utah State last month. Shible set the school all-around record with a 39.525 then again the following week with a 39.575.
Earlier this month against Southern Utah, Shible won vault (9.875) and balance beam (9.875) along with the all-around (39.300).
"My goal is to score 10 on my events," Shible said. "Our training here is good for me _ it's more structured with high-quality workouts."
After this weekend's meet with Georgia, Shible and her teammates will begin preparing for the NCAA Regional Championships, scheduled for April 7. The NCAA Collegiate Championships are April 19.
GYMNASTICS: Sophomore Jana Gallagher (Clearwater) scored a 9.9 to win the balance beam competition and was first all-around, leading the University of Illinois to its first victory.
Senior Gina Weichmann (Countryside) was third on the balance beam and third all-around to contribute to the Illini's second-place finish in a meet with Cal State-Fullerton and Sacramento State.
Erin Signoracci (East Lake) and No. 16 West Virginia were scheduled to battle Tara Tagliarino (Plant High) and the University of Michigan on Saturday.
Signoracci, a freshman, has competed on uneven bars and balance beam for the Mountaineers.
WVU will compete in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Saturday. Michigan will play host to the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.
Krissy Dreger (Northeast) and No. 10 University of Florida edged Karen Kuplicki (Seminole) and Iowa State 195.175-195.075 in a Rydell High Reunion in Gainesville.
Dreger, a junior, tied for fifth on vault, seventh on balance beam and ninth on bars. Kuplicki, a sophomore, tied for second on vault and eighth in floor exercise.
This weekend, Kuplicki and the Cyclones are competing in the Big 12 Championships. Dreger and the Gators are preparing for next weekend's Southeastern Conference Championships in Birmingham, Ala.
BASEBALL: Ryan McBee (Shorecrest) and Chris Maggi (Countryside) are seeing action with the Elon College Phoenix.
McBee, a freshman shortstop/second baseman, has started 12 games and is batting .208. Maggi, a junior second baseman, has played in three games.
BASKETBALL: David Ross (Boca Ciega) contributed eight points in the University of South Carolina's 72-65 loss to Connecticut in the first round of the NIT.
Ross connected on his first of two three-pointers to give the Spartans a 13-11 lead. He also had 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal.
It was the final game for Ross, a graduate student, and eighth-year head coach Eddie Fogler.
DIVING: Ryan Braun (St. Petersburg) was selected third team all-conference in the University Athletic Association.
The Washington University sophomore set a school record on the three-meter board with a score of 482.4. In the UAA Championships, Braun finished third on both the three- and one-meter boards.
TENNIS: Mike Narutowicz (Seminole) is a four-year starter and team captain playing at No. 6 for Lees-McRae College, N.C.
Narutowicz competed on the Bobcats' skiing team his freshman and sophomore years before concentrating on tennis.
Last season, the senior helped lead Lees-McRae to its fifth consecutive NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament title.
Janet Walker (Canterbury) has missed a couple of matches for fifth-ranked University of Texas due to a shoulder strain.
Walker was expected to resume play in her No. 1 postion Friday against 10th-ranked California.
The senior All-American has a 5-1 record, 3-0 in the Big 12 Conference. Walker and junior Vladka Uhlirova are 4-0 at No. 1 doubles.
The Longhorns have two matches remaining before the Big 12 Championships, April 26-29.
TRACK AND FIELD: Florida State's teams include senior Jason Dean (Clearwater), freshman Nate Davis (Largo) and sophomore Misty Harper (Seminole).
Dean is a two-time defending Atlantic Coast Conference pole vault champion. His vault of 16-10.75 is tops this season for the Seminoles.
Davis has seen limited action in his first year, but specializes in the mile run. Harper ran a personal best 10:30.84 in the 3200-meter race and has a 19:11 personal best in the 5K.
WRESTLING: Jared Frayer (Countryside) was a runner-up in the Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championships for the University of Oklahoma.
Frayer lost 3-0 to three-time league champion Reggie Wright of Oklahoma State.
This weekend, Frayer and eight other OU wrestlers are competing in the NCAA Championships. Frayer _ a junior with 34 victories, including 19 pins _ is making his third appearance in the national tournament.
News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 445-4119, e-mailed to namgammagte.net or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, Fla. 33756. Please include phone number.