by Frank Aceto
Associate Sports Editor
They have been one of the best teams in the state in recent years.
And here's the scary part: The Hudson gymnasts are as deep as ever.
The Lady Explorers expect to be a major force again after finishing third at the Division I state meet last season. It was their third trip to the state meet in the last four seasons.
Hudson also finished second to eventual state runner-up Strongsville in the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division. Brecksville-Broadview Heights won its 10th consecutive state title.
"We're all very excited for the new season to begin," seventh-year Lady Explorers head coach Randi Chepke said. "We finished last year strong and spent the off-season building bigger routines with more difficulty. Each and every one of them has improved and some of the younger girls will be able to fill bigger roles in the lineup this year."
The Lady Explorers lost just one senior to graduation. But that graduate is one of Hudson's greatest gymnasts ever.
Logan Custer, a two-time state individual participant, was the team's leading scorer during the last two seasons. Nevertheless, Chepke believes her squad's strength in numbers can offset the loss of it star gymnast.
"Our goal was to bring everybody up a notch or two, so combined, they can make up for losing Logan's big numbers," she said.
Fortunately, the Lady Explorers have two other state participants back in the lineup.
Junior Mackenzie Miller, a two-time state qualifier, reached the 2013 state meet on vault and the uneven bars. Senior Riley Skinner advanced to the state competition on the balance beam.
"Mackenzie brings grace and fluidity to the team," Chepke said."Mac has a dreamy floor routine this year. This kid is so kinesthetically aware, she makes the most difficult tumbling passes look easy."
Skinner and senior Jordan Miller were starters when Hudson was the state runner-up in 2011.
"Jordan and Riley have the experience of competing in the big show at the state competition twice already in their careers and they're certainly hoping to make that trip again," Chepke said. "Jordan has been an all-around competitor since her freshman year and Riley has been a standout on the floor exercise and balance beam.
"They are competition-savvy and we're counting on them to bring it when the pressure is on and lead this team."
Another key returnee is junior Teghan Piper, who can post high scores in every event.
"Mackenzie and Teghan will be two of our biggest scorers in the all-around," Chepke said. "Teghan brings the power and determination. Teghan is perfecting a bar routine that's going to be difficult to beat during the regular season."
And the rest of the opposition may want to take note: The Lady Explorers' underclassmen also have the potential to make some major noise.
"Our sophomore class has surprised me the most during off-season training," Chepke said. "As a group, they have accomplished adding more new skills than any other, but they still have some growing to do in terms of becoming gymnasts who can handle the stress of competition.
"That's typical for the younger, more inexperienced gymnasts, but I have no doubt they will step up because they've worked too hard to let nerves hold them back now."
Sophomores Katie Goosmann, Megan Urbanic and Jenni Spencer could be all-around performers when it's all said and done.
"Katie didn't see a ton of competition last year because of a few injuries, but she has made up for lost time," Chepke said. "She is capable of competing all-around if we need her and will undoubtedly be a major player in our vault and bar lineup.
"Megan and Jenni have also secured all-around routines. Each of them has areas they excel in, but they could compete all-around if we need them.
"Megan has worked diligently and deliberately on a double-flight pass on beam and increased her bonus capability there. She has also put together a nice little bar routine.
"Jenni has become a much more confident tumbler and vaulter -- both of which she performs with sheer strength and power."
Also returning to the team are junior Kelsey Tetmeyer and sophomore Paige Parris.
"Kelsey was a staple on bars last season and although she doesn't have a huge routine, she delivers a clean bar set we can count on," Chepke said. "She also has improved tremendously on floor and beam. Paige is still climbing back after being gone most of the summer and fall due to track."
Rounding out the squad is talented freshman Macy Lori, who is expected to contribute right away.
"Macy is a little bundle of energy that's easy to plop into the lineup just about anywhere and she'll bring back a competitive score," Chepke said.
Chepke's assistant is first-year coach Erika Czech, a former gymnast who graduated from Hudson in 2009.
While Strongsville has been the team to beat in recent years, Chepke believes the Lady Explorers will be in the mix when it comes to the Valley Division title.
"The NOC will be hard-fought this year and I think is anybody's to win," she said. "Strongsville will be tough again. They only lost one real scorer to graduation. Mentor has reloaded and should be able to improve their overall standings.
"Medina is always a serious threat and gets stronger each season. I wouldn't dare predict who's going to come away with the title, but we will do our best to prove we are serious contenders."
Chepke said the 2013-14 squad is her deepest team since 2010.
"More than half of these girls could compete all-around if we needed it," she said. "That's a luxury not a lot of coaches get in a given year. We have to stay healthy, continue to perfect our routines, add a few bonus connections here and there, but overall, we're raring to get started. It's going to be an interesting season."
Hudson is scheduled to make its season debut against Valley Division rival Brunswick Dec. 14 at Flytz Gymnastics in Cuyahoga Falls. The meet is set to begin at 5 p.m.