With the 2010 season just days away, first-year gymnastics coach Dave Kuzara sat down with wmubroncos.com to share his thoughts on the upcoming season and the direction of the program. Kuzara comes to Western Michigan with a career record of 100-68 in 10 years as a head coach.
Q: What are your overall thoughts for the season?
DK: It's kind of been a whirlwind beginning because of coming in basically in the middle of the preseason. A couple of things I'm trying to change overall is to have more success and more hit routines. That's always the goal. In the past few years with some unusual circumstances with injury and some other things that I think have happened here, they just haven't been successful with being consistent. That's probably been the number one thing I've tried to change and instill in the team is consistency.
That being said, I feel really good about where we are starting the season. They have embraced a lot of the changes that we've done and I feel that we'll start off being successful. I didn't come here to not try to make an impact right. I think we'll represent ourselves well, I think we have a chance to qualify to the NCAA regionals, which is not something we've been able to do here.
Q: What sort of culture are you trying to build at WMU?
DK: It's been amazing how everything that has happened to me in my life as a coach has brought me here and how all of those things, whether it was my start as a college coach at Michigan, being a head coach for 10 years at UMass, and then working for Linda Burdette at West Virginia and my last three-plus years working at Arkansas helped the most. I feel like that's exactly what this team needs.
What we're trying to build a culture of is winning. And winning is a lot more than the score at the end of a meet. It's about how you behave every day and how you interact with your teammates, how you respect your sport. Most gymnasts do this sport from the time since they can remember, so they inherently love the sport, but there's protocol and the way we're going to act and the way we're going to be seen as a team is something I think Bronco fans are going to be real proud of. I think one of the things we're going to do is restore a lot of pride in what we compete and how we compete.
Q: On the experience coming back and newcomers:
DK: Everybody has embraced some of the things we've done. The upperclassmen are really quality gymnasts. I think that, whether it's the seniors Liz Prouty and Tonya Eckert or the juniors Meghan Donovan, Kristine Garbarino or Erin Doucey, they're all ready to compete, they're all excited about this program, and they have done a great job leading the seven newcomers. Stacy Kramer, who is a transfer from Bowling Green and the six freshman have fit right in to what we're doing as a coaching staff and the traditions of the team and the traditions of being at Western Michigan University. We have great leadership on this team.
The freshmen have brought quite a bit of leadership as well. They're great communicators. As a unit, everybody's going to compete, everybody's going to participate and everybody's going to have a role on this team. It's worked really well. It's been a great mixture of upperclassmen and freshmen.
Q: Who is ready for a breakout season?
DK: I think Kristine Garbarino, who was an NCAA regional competitor last year. It's a little bit funny to say that she's going to have a breakout year, but I think she's going to break all the records here. She's going to break the all-around record. She's somebody who day in and day out is one of the most consistent athletes I've worked with. She's a star.
I also look for Liz Prouty, who's been in and out of the all-around, to have her best year as a senior. She's going to surprise people.
I think Meghan Donovan, who has been off and on here and is recovering from an ACL injury last year could have a big year. She is by far the biggest surprise from a coaching perspective and her teammate's perspective. I think she's really going to surprise some people. It's exciting for me to see someone who's struggled as a collegiate athlete turn around to achieve her potential.
We have a lot of role players. The freshmen are going to be role players this year, which in my opinion is a great way to start your career. You need to get in on an event or two and get the experience of being a college gymnast is all about.
The other person I to mention is Stacy Kramer. She's had an amazing preseason. Her gymnastics is really interesting and she's going to do three events for us consistently. I'm genuinely happy and excited for her. She's a wonderful athlete, 4.0 student and we're lucky to have her.
Q: On Pink Meet and Military Appreciation Day:
DK: Any time you are trying to get the community involved and you're trying to raise awareness or with Military Appreciation Day, just give thanks to people. What I'd like to do is develop these events and also try to do more with the community. As a team, the more things you do to involve everybody and not just your die-hard fans, we're going to take these things seriously and treat them with respect. I think it's going to touch everybody.
Q: On theme days in practice:
DK: It has been a tremendous success this year, doing the theme days. We have probably the longest preseason of any sport. You've got basically from the time you come back to school until January 8. That's a four-month preseason.
On Fridays we did theme days, everything from Malibu Barbie Day to Super Bronco Fan Day. We changed it up every week. The first 15 minutes, it really makes you start the day with a smile on your face. It's a long week, you're trying to get routine ready and all this conditioning, and you never have a bad spirit day. Everybody's laughing. Some of the costumes were completely ridiculous and it was really entertaining. This was something everybody embraced. It really helps you through what I think is one of the toughest preseasons in any sport.
Q: What do you look for from a recruiting standpoint?
DK: What we're going to be looking for are people who want to take this program to the next level. We will finish in the top 10 academically of any gymnastics program in the country consistently, and I am really confident in saying that. What we want is the true definition of a student-athlete - academics and athletics. I feel that at this university we can do both. We can provide you with a top-notch academic experience and athletic experience.
We're looking to break into that NCAA regional level here, which in recent history hasn't happened. There is no reason why this team can't be more competitive nationally, both team wise and as individuals. We're looking for someone who wants that challenge. I think that there are a lot of athletes in this area, certainly the state and region, who fit that.
Q: What are the greatest selling points of the program?
DK: From a university standpoint, I'm really impressed with our academic programs.
From an athletic department standpoint, I think our athletic director has amassed a top-notch program, not only in the Mid-American Conference, but one that's recognized nationally. I feel like our training facility holds up and is not only one of the top training facilities in the MAC, but holds up with a lot of schools in the nation.
Where I think Western Michigan is different and better is our competition facility is fantastic. I've been taking recruits down to the center of University Arena and having them look around and seeing themselves competing in this venue.