Van Vleet is healthy, reaches new plateauBy NANCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002
Duke Van Vleet (Countryside) is enjoying his best season in gymnastics at Penn State.
Sidelined by shoulder injuries and a surgery last year, the junior recently produced his first career top-three finish on the high bar and parallel bars in the No. 4 Nittany Lions' win over West Point. "Duke is really stepping up this year and giving us the necessary leadership," 11th-year coach Randy Jepson said. "We graduated seven and recruited nine freshman, so we're counting on Duke." Van Vleet was drawn to Penn State after a 1999 recruiting trip, and he worked with Jepson at a national training camp.
"I could see Duke had the potential to be strong and had a great air awareness," Jepson said. "Duke's work ethic was impressive, and he had great possibilities for success in college."
Jepson's assessment was correct. Only when a shoulder injury persisted did Van Vleet have to back off his competitive schedule.
"It was hard for me not to compete, and when I had surgery at the end of last summer, I tried to come back too soon," Van Vleet said.
"I wasn't completely ready," he said, "but I was thinking about wanting to compete and how I could best contribute to the team."
The finance major has helped lead the unbeaten Lions to nine victories, rekindling memories of their 9-0 start in 2000 when the program captured its 10th NCAA title.
"We are off to a terrific start, and I know we'll grow and develop through this year," Jepson said.
"We count on Duke to give us consistent marks, especially on the high bar, although he's competing regularly on all the events except the pommel horse."
Van Vleet always has been comfortable in the high bar competition, and he initially was used specifically for that event. This year, he's ranked 14th on the high bar and showing his versatility in other events. "I've realized I can accomplish more than I ever expected," Van Vleet said. "You can never set your goals too high."
As a youth gymnast at the Apollo School of Gymnastics in Clearwater, he often found himself a team of one. With his college squad, he's part of a circle of friends that extends beyond the sport.
"It is so much more fun being on a team," Van Vleet said. "We're not just teammates in gymnastics, but we're friends out of the gym."
WRESTLING: All-American Jared Frayer (Countryside) moved into a sixth-place tie on Oklahoma's all-time victory list at 115.
The nation's top-ranked 149-pounder needs 14 falls to tie the school record (58). He leads the Sooners this season in pins (10). Clint Frease (Countryside) sparked Brown University to wins over Portland State and Pacific in the Oregon Classic.
The 141-pounder also has victories against Boston, Sacred Heart and Lehigh.
Andy Medders (Countryside) is a 125-pound junior at Cumberland College. Last year, he captured an NAIA championship.
FOOTBALL: Jay Kulaga (Seminole) was among the seniors playing for Team Florida in the Gridiron Classic.
The All-Big 10 selection is a three-year starting offensive guard for Illinois.
BASKETBALL: A Pinellas contingency of freshman are playing for the St. Petersburg College women's team.
Qunisha Rush (Lakewood) is a starting point guard averaging 19 points, Sarita Merrick (Dunedin) is a guard scoring four per game, Misty Howell (Countryside) is a center averaging seven and nine rebounds, and Jannielle McCullough (St. Petersburg) is a forward. Florida State's Shinikki Whiting (Clearwater) scored a game-high 19 points against fifth-ranked Duke.
TENNIS: Mike Murray (Thom Howard Academy) was 6-6 in fall singles for Wake Forest and 3-0 in doubles at the South Florida Fall Classic.
Shawn Heinchon (Thom Howard Academy/Southwest Louisiana) is an assistant coach for the Demon Deacons.
Freshman R.J. Murray (Dunedin Academy) has joined sophomore Reinaldo Valor (Dunedin Academy) at N.C. State. Each has a 1-1 singles record.
SWIMMING: Juniors Katy Colmenares (East Lake) and Heather Weil (Northeast) are teammates at Wright State University in Ohio.
Colmenares specializes in the 100 backstroke and 50 freestyle; Weil the 500 free and 200 butterfly.
Scott Tucker (Seminole/Auburn) was the second American to finish in the 100 free and the 100 medley in the FINA Swimming World Cup in Stockholm. He was sixth overall in the freestyle (48.02) and fourth in the medley (55.13).
DIVING: Sarah Close (Dunedin) was second in the 1-meter competition, helping lead Florida to a victory over Alabama.
Auburn freshman Rachel Korth (St. Petersburg Catholic) earned a second on the 3-meter and a fourth on the 1-meter against Florida.
-- News for this column may be faxed to Nancy Morgan, 445-4119; e-mailed to email@example.com, or sent to 710 Court St., Clearwater, Fla. 33756. Please include your phone number.
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