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Ohio State enduring program changes ahead of 2018 season with new head coach

The Ohio State gymnastics team huddles before an event during its meet against Iowa on Jan. 21, 2017. Credit: Megan Russell | Lantern reporter

The Ohio State women’s gymnastics team is undergoing an adjustment period nearing the start of the 2018 season under new head coach Meredith Paulicivic.

The Buckeyes have a different approach with Paulicivic at the head of the program than in previous years. She said she’s aiming for early consistency, rather than trying to nail challenging routines out of the gate.

“One difference this year is that we have taken out some difficulty and really are going for clean and consistent,” Paulicivic said. “I feel like, until we can be clean and consistent, we’re not going to wow anybody with huge difficulty.”

These adjustments are more focused on the routines of her older athletes. The upperclassmen and experienced Buckeyes, like senior Alexis Mattern, will still be expected to be the team’s heavy hitters.

Paulicivic is also putting a stronger emphasis on artistry and technique for Ohio State, an adjustment that will be seen on routines such as sophomore Olivia Aepli’s floor performance.

“She has a really good artistic quality that I love,” Paulicivic said. “I gave her a brand new floor routine. Again, pulled out some of her difficulty, and I’m going to use that incredible artistic quality she has to hopefully garner higher scores than she had before.”

Ohio State could face challenges heading into the year, given the youth of the team. The roster is now comprised of nine underclassmen, including six freshmen, a group that could be the start of a strong core in the coming years, but presents potential challenges in the current season.

That young group of players lost one of its veteran leaders before the season even had a chance to start. Senior Taylor Harrison announced her medical retirement, and will not compete as planned. She had previously been named one of the team’s captains.

Harrison has represented the Buckeyes at the NCAA regionals the past two years and was a major contributor for Ohio State on the floor exercise, with a career-high of 9.875, and balance beam, holding a team-high score of 9.850 in 2017.

The team also is facing injuries with two other senior athletes. Mattern is healing from a bicep injury from the previous season, and senior Kaitlyn Hofland is recovering from another surgery from a lingering shoulder injury.

Paulicivic anticipates that Mattern will be ready for the season opener to perform as an all-around competitor but is uncertain if Hofland will be medically cleared to participate in time for the start of the season.

The Buckeyes will be led by their three competing seniors and captains — Mattern, Hofland and senior Stefanie Merkle. Those seniors have consistently posted 9.800-9.900 range scores on every event in the previous season, making them the athletes to watch in the upcoming season.

“Evolution is our theme this year, and I think that we kind of want to show that we’re serious about that,” Hofland said.  

As an opener to kick off the 2018 season, on Dec. 16 at 12 p.m. in St. John Arena, the Buckeyes will compete in their Scarlet and Gray Intrasquad meet. Ohio State will have their first official meet at 9 p.m. Jan. 6 at UCLA.

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