University of Denver senior Ashley Shible (East Lake) wants to close out her college gymnastics career the way it began.
In 2001, the Pioneer squad qualified for its first NCAA championship and placed 12th. Shible was Denver's first freshman All-American in 18 years and the school's first all-around champion in regional competition in 24 years.
"I want the team to finish up the way we started my freshman year, and that is to go to nationals again," Shible, 21, said. "We've got six freshman, and we need to get them experience because they have the skills."
Leading the way will be Shible and the two other seniors serving as tri-captains.
"My role is somewhat different this year, being a captain, and will involve a different type of leadership. We seniors remember what it was like being a freshman, so we plan to give them tips on how to make it a little easier."
Denver's six-year coach, Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart, a former Gator gymnast, is confident in Shible's ability as a competitor and a leader.
"Ashley continues to amaze me with her competitive abilities," Kutcher-Rinehart said. "She was like that as a freshman and she continues to be the same as a senior. She rarely misses in her routines and is a tremendous athlete who has grown and matured.
"In her leadership role as captain, Ashley can challenge her teammates and still offer compassion and sympathy. She has always set an example by her work ethic, and now her verbal leadership will come in to play."
Shible returned to nationals her sophomore season as an individual competitor, but prefers to compete this year as a team.
"One of the things that has helped me be successful is the support from the team, coaches, trainers and friends," Shible said. "Our team camaraderie really motivates each of us. We're all fighting for spots and practices are hard, but it helps when you have someone to joke around with while you're training."
Shible's outstanding freshman year also included scoring the school's first perfect 10 on vault and breaking the school's all-around record, only to break it again twice during the season.
She won 22 titles her first year, 14 her second seven as a junior.
Shible opened her final season with a tie for first all-around in a meet with West Virginia and Pittsburgh last week.
"My time here in Colorado has been good and everything has worked out well for me," Shible said. "I've learned a lot, especially time management. There's always so much to do and little time to do it."
Shible juggled practices and travel, classes and homework and an internship well enough to be a three-time recipient of the University of Denver's academic bronze medalist for achieving at least a 3.0 grade point average.
The state of Colorado has recognized her accomplishments by selecting her twice for the Colorado Sportswoman of the Year award.
After graduation, Shible plans to close out her gymnastics career and focus on a new love, animal training. Her internship at the Ocean Journey Aquarium in Denver includes training sea otters.
"I've always loved marine biology and really want to train dolphins," Shible said. "At some point, after college, if I needed a job, I might coach gymnastics, but I see my career now in another field. I don't know how fast it will happen, but animal training is what I want to do."
Shible is definitely career-oriented, Kutcher-Rinehart said, but is focused first on completing her gymnastics career in high fashion.
"Ashley's commitment to the team is fantastic and we couldn't succeed without her," Kutcher-Rinehart said. "She is capable of being an All-American in any event, but Ashley's much more team-oriented than individually directed. That's one of things that makes her so special."
MORE GYMNASTICS: Team captain Duke Van Vleet (Countryside), placed third on high bar and tied for 10th on parallel bars to help No. 5 Penn State win its opening meet over Army and Springfield.
+ Jason Pierce (Palm Harbor University) is one of five freshmen hoping to break into a contributing role for No. 7-ranked University of California at Berkeley.
+ Rebounding from an ACL injury her freshman year, Jodie Heinicka (Seminole) scored 9.525 on the uneven bars for Missouri to beat Southeast Missouri State.
+ Former Tampa Bay Turners gymnast Terin Martinjak (Clearwater) was seventh on balance beam and tied for fifth on floor exercise for No. 14 LSU in a loss to No. 2 Alabama.
SWIMMING: Sophomore Heather Jennings (Lakewood) scored a first for Randolph-Macon Woman's College in the 500 freestyle and teamed up to win the 200 free relay against the College of Notre Dame, Maryland. Jennings placed second in the 100 and 50 free events to contribute to the WildCat win over Hood College.
+ A time of 1:57.39 was fast enough for a first-place finish in the 200 individual medley by Jordan Raynovich (Northeast) to pace Clemson to wins over Davidson and John Madison.
TENNIS: Oldsmar's Carl Fenzl (Berkeley Prep) earned a 4-2 singles record and a 4-1 doubles in his sophomore fall season at Villanova.
+ Freshman Ashley Eville (Clearwater) played to a 3-1 fall singles record at Stetson.
+ Senior transfer Nicole Cercone (Seminole/Seton Hall) and junior transfer Natalie Tirapelli (Canterbury/Connecticut) team up at Florida State.
FOOTBALL: Seven-year pro Jeff Mitchell (Countryside/Florida) plays for his second Super Bowl ring today when the Carolina Panthers face the New England Patriots. Drafted in 1997 by the Baltimore Ravens, the 30-year old center collected his first ring in 2000.
+ Syracuse senior center Nick Romeo (East Lake) was selected to play for the North squad in Saturday's Gridiron Classic.
+ Freshmen Joey Fabrizio (Seminole) and Josh Cromartie (St. Petersburg Catholic) were teammates at Villanova. Fabrizio is a defensive back and Cromartie a defensive end.
BASKETBALL: Dominique Redding (Clearwater) contributed a three-pointer in Tennessee's 72-69 win over Duke. The freshman forward is averaging seven minutes and three points per game.
+ Sophomore forward Billy McDade (Largo) is averaging over 11 minutes per game and scoring 5.5 points per game for the University of New Orleans.
+ Auburn senior Tia Miller (Boca Ciega) posted a double-double against Prairie View A and M, collecting 14 points and 14 rebounds.
+ Freshman guard Gabe McMillen (Indian Rocks Christian) is averaging 18 minutes per game for Stetson and averages three points.
_ News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 727-445-4119; e-mailed to namgammaverizon.net or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756. Please include phone number.