Eleven meets in four months. That is how long the Seattle Pacific women’s gymnastics team has to compete within their average season. This season, not only did the Falcons host the 2017 USA Gymnastics Nationals Championships, but they were also ranked 10th nationally throughout the entire season, which is no easy task.
“The experience of competing in college gymnastics is one that so many gymnasts strive for, but few have the opportunity to experience,” Head Coach Laurel Tindall said. “[Gymnastics] takes so much mental toughness to stay in and be competitive at the collegiate level.”
Returning to Royal Brougham Pavilion for the first time in 10 years, the USA Nationals consisted of a three-day competition span (April 7-9) to determine the team and individual national champions.
The championships roster featured Division II teams and Division I teams of the NCAA. The following eight schools competed alongside Seattle Pacific: Bridgeport University, Lindenwood, Texas Woman’s, Cornell, Air Force, Yale, Brown and West Chester.
“It was a mix of nerves and excitement,” senior Kristi Hayashida said. “The best part about hosting [Nationals] was being supported by family and friends. I wanted to end the season on a high note but was extremely excited to go out and compete one last time with my team.”
Earlier in the season, the three-time balance beam All-American tied the 16-year-old school record, previously set by Alison Siegel on Feb. 3, 2001, with a 9.925.
Hayashida didn’t let anything get in her way as she continued to improve her routines, stick her landings and build her confidence to make sure she finished her collegiate career with no regrets.
And during Sunday night’s Individual Event Finals, that is exactly what she accomplished.
Nerves didn’t stop Hayashida as she grinned throughout her performance and stuck her final landing on beam with a 9.825 as a result to tie for fourth place.
“I told myself that since this was the last time I would ever do gymnastics, I should take in the moment and enjoy it,” Hayashida said. “I think it helped me to relax a lot, and I ended up being very proud of how I did.”
One of the Assistant Coaches, Sarah Marshall, additionally commented on Hayashida’s relationship with the balance beam throughout her four years as a collegiate gymnast.
“Beam is a tough event,” Marshall said. “One wobble and you aren’t going to qualify to event finals at Nationals, but [Hayashida] qualified all four years. She is the only gymnast in our 44 year history to do so. She has difficulty in her routines and competes with a fierce determination that is beautiful to watch.”
Only four teams were eligible to compete in the April 8 Team Finals.
In order to qualify, whichever team scored high enough to be the top two within their respective semi-final meet would secure that spot. During the first semi-final, which was on April 7, Bridgeport and Cornell were the top two teams to advance.
Later, during the second semi-final, Lindenwood secured their slot, which left only one available space. Finishing so closely with only a difference of 0.475, Texas Woman’s grabbed the final spot for the Team Finals, and Seattle Pacific strongly finished placing 5th overall.
“Of course our biggest goal of qualifying to the National finals didn’t happen,” Tindall said. “But the team really put things together and showed that they belonged at the National Championships. To get 5th as a team was an amazing victory for them.”
With Team Finals completed, Sunday was left open for the Falcons to come back and make a statement, which they most definitely did.
Seattle Pacific had five competitors compete in the Individual Event Finals: Hayashida, senior Lauren Glover on floor, junior Ariana Harger on floor, senior Breanna Beltran on uneven bars and first-year Darian Burns on uneven bars, floor and vault.
“I honestly can’t pinpoint just one thing I love about gymnastics,” Burns said. “I love the challenge of getting a new skill and the excitement that comes when you perfect it. I also love the coaches and how much confidence they invest in me on a daily basis. Mostly though, I love my teammates. They are my sisters and my best friends … I could not achieve the amazing things I have without them by my side.”
And amazing things Burns was able to achieve Sunday night, as she finished her floor routine with a salute to the audience and an enormous smile on her face. Her clean, crisp performance on that blue mat earned her the gold medal for the Individual Event Finals with a score of 9.900, which was also a career-best.
“The minute I finished floor I thought it was a pretty good routine,” Burns said. “But when the score popped up and the cheers erupted, my coach came up to me with tears in her eyes, and I knew something much bigger than I could ever imagine was in store.”
Tindall said she knew the amount of potential Burns had within her, but was just waiting for her to believe it in herself.
“We knew that [Burns] had the talent to become a national champion,” Tindall said. “She had some struggles with her routine during the season, but really grew in her gymnastics. We have lots of goals for her for the next year that are achievable, like to compete as an All-Around and potentially qualify to the NCAA DI regionals.”
Along with Burns in the Individual Event Finals, three of the competing SPU gymnasts were seniors who ended their gymnastics collegiate experience after that Sunday night.
“All five of our seniors have contributed in many ways to this team through their gymnastics, academics, and leadership,” Marshall said. “They have grown immensely from their freshman year and have exciting futures ahead of them. I was proud of all our athletes who qualified to event finals.”
Beltran finished her career by taking a score of 9.625 to place 15th on the bars, and Glover wrapped her season on floor with a 9.575 to earn her 14th place at Nationals.
“Those that make it through their four years of college competition are to be commended for their perseverance,” Tindall said. “We are so thankful for all those who have gone through our program and have written the history of this program.”
With the excitement and success of Nationals over now and the five seniors on the team looking toward graduation, things don’t stop here for the returners of the women’s gymnastics team.
“We finished recruiting for next year and signed five athletes last fall,” Tindall said. “Our preparations for next season start now, and we will be setting lots of goals in our end-of-season meetings with the athletes.”
Despite her current success, Burns is still looking to next season.
“I think we need to have a more solid and confident mentality when we walk into meets,” Burns said. “We need to have more faith in our work because at Nationals we really showed that we deserved to be there. We need to stop worrying and trust in our skills and our practices.”