Gymnastics places third at national meet

As she stood on the podium, Maria Hundley didn’t think about the fact that she just won first place in three different events. She didn’t think about the fact that she was one of the best gymnasts in the country. 

She only thought about the trials and tribulations that she had to overcome in order to get to where she is right now. How she was the girl who thought she wasn’t going to get a chance at the collegiate level after injuries plagued her high school career.

“I don’t think of myself as the best in the country,” the sophomore Hundley said. “[I think about all] that I’ve overcome before coming to college. I was the injured girl who no one gave a chance. [I think about] who I was versus who I am now, it’s really exciting.”

The podium that Hundley was standing on was at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate National Championships, where the Falcons cleaned up the honors as they swept all four events for the first time in school history during the individual event finals.

Breaking records was a theme that the Falcons have followed all season and showed no sign of stopping during the national meet, starting with the four individual titles.

“[This meet] exceeded all of our expectations,” head coach Laurel Tindall said. “I think we were a little overwhelmed.”

The reapers of the awards for the SPUGs were Hundley and senior Kai Tindall.

Hundley won the outright crown on the vault and beam-exercises with a score of 9.8500 in both events. She also split the bars title with Linnaea Hance from Air Force and Brittany Johnson from Texas Woman with yet another score of 9.8500.

Kai Tindall, daughter of longtime head coach Laurel Tindall, took the top prize on the floor exercise in the midst of a four-way tie with a score of 9.8750. The other three girls in the mix were Melissa Doucette and Caitlin Perry from Bridgeport and Spencer Jones from Texas Woman.

“I don’t know how it could have gone any better,” Kai Tindall said, who has been dominating the floor all year long. “I always dreamed of finishing my senior year strong and leaving the floor strong.”

Although the individual championships were sweet, they weren’t even on the minds of the Falcons when they landed in Providence, R.I., and rolled into Brown University for the national meet.

What was on their minds, however, was making it to the second day of competition, the team finals, where the top four teams compete. But to do that, they were going to have to qualify on the first night, something that they hadn’t done since 2011.

“We definitely had our sights set on making the second day of competition,” Laurel Tindall said. “We really wanted to make it into the top four again.”

The SPUGs never got the message that it’s been a while since they made it to the team finals, as they easily rolled in with an enormous score of 194.275, just shy of their all-time record 194.575–a score that they set in late February.

The first night, which took place on Kai Tindall’s 22nd birthday, was highlighted by performances by Hundley, who scored a 9.925 on the uneven bars, and junior Shannon Escarra, who scored a 9.825, also on bars. Both of these scores topped the previous records of each of these gymnasts.

“We just talked to each other [before the first day],” said freshman Kristi Hayashida, who scored a 9.750 on the beam during the first night. “We needed to put in everything we have and stick together as a team, and we were really able to do that. We were proud of that.”

After rolling through the first night, the team was much more relaxed on the second night of competition, knowing they had already accomplished what they wanted to.

“I realized I had nothing to lose,” Hundley said. “The worst [we] could get is fourth in the nation. [I just] wanted to go out and have fun.”

And have fun they did, topping the massive score they set the previous night with a new score at 194.550, good enough for second-best all time.

All three of SPU’s top scores were set in the same season – and two of them were set in the same weekend, just one day apart.

That score was good enough for third overall, coming in just behind Bridgeport and Texas Woman, who placed first and second, respectively. The team also set a new all-time record on bars at 49.225. The only lull in this fantastic showing was the beam, which has been a nemesis for the team all year long. They scored a 47.675 in this event, at least one full point lower than any other event.

“We are really happy with how we did,” Hayashida said. “Getting third overall was great, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team.”

This led the team into the event finals on the third and final day.

Hayashida qualified for the beam, Escarra qualified for the floor and bars, Kai Tindall qualified for the floor, and Hundley qualified for the bars, beam, and vault finals.

In the end, it was Kai Tindall and Hundley who got awards. For both of them, it was a long time in the making.

No matter who is on the team, or how they got there, one thing is for sure: They are in the SPU record books.

And the team could not be happier with the way their team grew and performed over the course of the season, ending on the best note possible.

“I knew something special was going to happen this year,” Kai Tindall said. “We gelled together. [It was good] to be able to see our improvements and do well.”

It was a fitting record-breaking end to a season filled with broken records.

Whether it is breaking the record score twice in a season, almost breaking that score again at nationals, breaking multiple event records or multiple gymnasts breaking personal records, it was a season to remember.

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