William and Mary gymnasts Landon Funiciello and Neal Courter already have made history as the school's first competitors at the U.S. national championships. A greater impact will require supreme effort.
The men's field is sprinkled with Olympians and national team members, somewhat unusual in a post-Olympic year. Both welcome the competition and hope that it improves everyone's performances. Competition is set for Friday and Sunday at Hartford, Conn.
"My goal is to hit my routines both days of competition and see where I stand," Courter said. "If I hit my routines and do what I'm capable of doing, I'll be satisfied, no matter where I finish."
William and Mary coach Cliff Gauthier believes that both have the ability to place in the top 10 in their specialties — Funiciello on the rings and Courter in the vault.
Funiciello's strength on the apparatus and ability to hold positions are national-team caliber. His place will be determined by his transitions between positions, his dismount and his poise on the national championship stage.
Courter might have a more difficult time placing, Gauthier said, because the vault is executed so quickly and requires such precision that everything must be in sync in a blink.
Funiciello also will compete in the parallel bars and vault. Courter will compete in the floor exercise and high bar.
Funiciello, a rising senior, is a two-time NCAA All-American on rings and was second last season, just one-tenth of a point shy of tying for the national championship.
Courter last season was just the second freshman in the program's history to become an NCAA All-American (Funiciello was the first), placing third in the vault.
"It's a great honor," Courter said. "It's my first time at such a big competition and it caps a great freshman year for me."
Among the Olympians scheduled to compete are 2012 Olympic all-around bronze medalist Danell Leyva, 2013 AT&T American Cup champ Jake Dalton, defending all-around champ John Orozco, and Sam Mikulak of Michigan, the 2013 NCAA all-around champ.
In addition, Olympic team alternates Steven Legendere from Oklahoma University and Alex Naddour also will compete.
The U.S. meet concludes a lengthy year for college gymnasts, many of whom take the summer to rest and recuperate before returning to school.
Courter said that training and staying in competitive shape for the past couple of months have been a challenge, but he feels capable of performing at his best. Regardless of this weekend's outcome, he believes that the experience will help him in the future.
"I think it will help my drive in gymnastics going forward," he said. "Getting to see all the cool gymnastics people are doing right now will show me what I need to work toward and what my strengths and weaknesses are, as I go back to school and prepare for the college season."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun