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Originally published Friday, April 5, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Huskies say they're capable of upset in NCAA gymnastics regional

Washington is the No. 4 seed at the NCAA regional gymnastics meet Saturday at Norman, Okla. Coach Joanne Bowers says she thinks the Huskies can finish in the top two and advance to the NCAA meet.

Special to The Seattle Times

NCAA regional gymnastics

Washington is one of six teams at an NCAA gymnastics regional Saturday hosted by Oklahoma, the No. 2-ranked team in the nation. The top two finishers advance to the NCAA meet April 19 in Los Angeles.

When: 2 p.m. (PDT) Saturday.

Where: Norman, Okla.

Teams: No. 1 seed Oklahoma, No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Penn State, No. 4 Washington, No. 5 Iowa, No. 6 Southern Utah.

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Heading into a regional meet of the NCAA national gymnastics tournament on Saturday in Norman, Okla., Washington coach Joanne Bowers is thinking upset.

The 22nd-ranked Huskies are the fourth seed in a six-team regional where a top-two finish is needed to qualify for the national meet April 19 in Los Angeles. Washington last reached the nationals in 1998.

Bowers, in her seventh season at UW, says big jumps by lower seeds at regionals are rare but not impossible. Some stellar moments this season, such as the 196.625 the Huskies posted in their final regular-season meet — a school best since the NCAA adopted a new scoring system in 2005 — fuel her optimism.

"From the beginning of the season, our goal was to get to nationals," said Bowers. "The girls were not afraid to say that out loud, and they worked for it every single day. If we go in there and do what we know we can do, we can pull an upset."

Senior co-captain Lauren Rogers is a fellow believer.

"We have a really good chance of advancing if we hit five of six routines on each event — ideally six of six," said Rogers. "I feel really confident in how we have been preparing for the meet."

Rogers earned Pac-12 first-team recognition in all-around, the first UW gymnast to receive all-conference honors since Hatsune Akaogi was named to the Pac-10's second team in 2009. Rogers posted a career-high 39.425 in all-around at the Pac-12 championships, placing fifth. The Huskies were fifth as a team at the Pac-12 meet.

Rogers is one of five Washington seniors, a member of Bowers' third recruiting class and a key piece in the coach's campaign to restore an elite standard to a program that had fallen on lean times.

"We have worked so hard as a team not only this year, but in the past four years," Rogers said. "We have all tried so hard to get this program to a better spot than it was when we came in."

To Bowers, Rogers' steadiness and example have been have been a huge plus.

"She's our go-to person," said Bowers. "You just know she's going to do well. She's a double-major (finance and information services) and always gets good grades. She's never in trouble. She's always one of the first ones to turn to if you have something you need. She's just that kind of person in every aspect."

Despite a so-so season opener and another off-night meet at midseason, Bowers said UW has exhibited the consistency and talent to potentially overtake second-seeded Stanford (ranked No. 11; regional qualifying score of 196.710) and third-seeded Penn State (No. 14; 196.500) in Oklahoma.

Bowers uses input from team psychologist Ron Chamberlain and assistant coach (and former Olympian) Elise Ray to cultivate a mental edge for her athletes. To get gymnasts accustomed to a regional's vibe, she turned last week's practices into full-on dress rehearsals.

"We practiced the byes, warming up quick, started with the rotation, floor, that we're going to do in Oklahoma, even stayed in the corrals like they make us do at the meet," Bowers said. "We practiced all of that, put people under pressure. By Friday we were on autopilot."

In 2011 a No. 6 seed, Kent State (where Bowers served as an assistant from 1998-2001), placed second at its regional, surpassing the top seed (Stanford) and qualifying for the national meet. Why not UW?

"If we just go in there and do what I know what we can do, we can upset them," Bowers said of Stanford and Penn State. "It's not out of the realm of possibilities. We don't need other teams to mess up. If we do what we can do, I think we can advance."

Notes

• Freshman Allison Northey, a Skyline graduate, established herself as an emerging star in her first season. Three times she was honored as Pac-12 Newcomer of the Week, and she placed first in all-around at UW's final regular-season meet with a glittering 39.3. "She's come in and overachieved," Bowers said. "We knew she'd come in and be one of our top beam girls. She's ended up being one of our best vaulters, too, and a very good bar worker. I can easily see her being an all-around for us next year. She's such a neat kid. She'll do anything you ask her to do and keep working until she gets it. She's been improving so fast. You're going to hear her name a bunch in the next three years."

• Other keys performers on UW's roster: junior Aliza Vaccher, who has advanced to the national meet as individual all-around the past two seasons, posted a 39.225 at the Pac-12 championships, good for eighth; senior Paige Bixler, UW's other co-captain, who posted a career-best 9.9 on the beam at the Pac-12s, tying for third.

• UW finished fifth (195.875) at the Pac-12s and was on pace to do even better when senior Megan Whitney injured her Achilles tendon during her approach on vault. "She had gone 9.9 on vault less than two weeks previous to that," Bowers said. "It was all she could do to still get over the horse and get an 8.8. That was one of those situations where you just go, 'Oh, no.' But I was very proud of the girls who competed right after her. They were upset, but they stepped up and finished well."

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