© John Cheng

SEATTLE Following five seasons helping the University of Washington Gymnastics program reach new heights, Elise Ray has been named the head coach of the GymDawgs program, Washington Director of Athletics Jennifer Cohen announced Friday. Ray takes over the role held by Joanne Bowers for the last 10 years after Bowers stepped down to be closer to family.

“I am beyond thrilled for the opportunity to be the next head coach of the Washington Gymnastics program,” said Ray. “I have loved Washington from the day I first interviewed for the assistant job five years ago. There is something extremely special about the people and culture here on Montlake. I’m incredibly grateful to Stephanie Rempe and Jen Cohen who have such belief in me and the program. Joanne gave her all to Washington Gymnastics, every single day, and I can only hope to match her passion. From coach, to boss and mentor, to friend, I’m indebted to her kindness and mentorship. This is truly an honor and I cannot wait to get started.’

Ray, who was elevated to Associate Head Coach prior to the 2015-16 season, has been influential in the growth of the UW Gymnastics program, both on and off the mat. While on staff, the Dawgs advanced to the NCAA Regional meet every year and sent three individuals to the NCAA Championships.

Most recently, Ray helped mentor one of the more decorated Husky gymnasts in Allison Northey who concluded her career at the NCAA Championships and was a three-time All-Pac 12 First Team selection. Additionally, Kaitlyn Duranczyk took home the 2016 Pac-12 bars title, becoming the first GymDawg since 2011 to accomplish the feat and the fifth conference bars champion in team history. Washington also placed a program-best nine student-athletes on the Pac-12 All-Academic teams in 2015-16.

“After learning of Joanne’s desire to spend more time with family, it became very evident to us that the next leader of this program was already here within our program,” said Washington Interim Director of Athletics Jennifer Cohen. “Elise Ray has experienced success at every level of gymnastics competition, and embodies so many of the things we stand for as a University, and an athletic department. It’s hard to imagine someone better positioned to inspire our team to achieve greatness in every area of their lives than Elise.”

Ray has also played a key role in landing high-profile recruits for the Huskies including the most recent class of 2016 which features the 2016 Junior Olympics National Bar Champion in Evanni Roberson and Madison Copiak, who is currently competing for a chance to represent Canada at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

As an acclaimed gymnast herself, Ray was an Olympic bronze medalist for team USA at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and also competed at the 1999 World Championships in Tianjin, China.

In 2000, Ray won both the U.S. National Championships and the Olympic Trials. She was the only American to qualify for an event final in the Olympics. After the Olympics, Ray competed under Bowers at the University of Michigan, majoring in English. She led her team to the NCAA Super Six finals and was a three-time NCAA National Champion on the bars (2004), the beam (2002) and tied for the all-around title in 2001.

Ray graduated from Michigan with the most All-American honors in program history with 14 and was inducted into Michigan’s Hall of Fame in October of 2015.

She was born in Tallahassee, Fla.., but grew up in Maryland where she attended high school and last lived. Ray trained at Hill’s Gymnastics in Md., under Kelli Hill.

After graduating, she performed in Las Vegas for Cirque de Soleil’s O and LOVE. Occasionally she would work as a color commentator for the Big 10 Network during broadcasts of women’s gymnastics meets. On Aug. 19, 2012, Ray was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.