Friday, April 25, 2014

Young gymnastics team earning wins

Bars. Vault. Beam. Floor.  These terms are common words used every day, but when used together, few people understand their meanings.  These four words in tandem describe gymnastics events that athletes all over the country work every day on mastering.

Liberty University’s gymnastics team works at perfecting these events to compete in the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC).  The team was started last year, spurred by the encouragement of captain junior Rachel Steele.

“When I got to Liberty, there was no team,” Steele said.  “I came (to the Lynchburg Academy) my freshman year and talked with Lori, the owner, and we discussed having a Liberty team … she talked to people at Liberty and we got the club started.”

Balanced — Rachel Steele, Steven Lucia and other members of Liberty’s gymnastics team won podium placements at JMU. Photo provided

An assistant coach at the Lynchburg Academy, Mariah Dailey, took the team on as her own.  Dailey, who has been competing in gymnastics since she was two years old, has a passion for coaching and hopes to take the team to the next level.

“I started training in gymnastics when I was two, and I’ve been in the sport ever since,” Dailey said.  “I’ve loved the sport ever since I was a child.”

The team competes in meets against other college gymnastics clubs during the spring semester.  The team had a particularly successful meet Feb. 19 at James Madison University, competing against colleges like Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and Tennessee.

Steele placed second in all-around competition, meaning she had the second best total score of all the women competitors.  She placed first in the beam and floor competitions and third on the uneven bars.

Junior Jill Wippermann, who had not competed for five years before coming to Liberty, also had a solid outing for the Lady Flames, placing fourth all-around and second in the vault and floor competitions.

“(My standout moment has been) conquering little fears of stuff that I haven’t done in a long time,” Wippermann said.

Junior Steve Lucia, captain of the men’s team, had a standout performance with a first place finish in floor, second in vault and third on the high bar.

“(My favorite thing) has been just to compete for the school,” Lucia said.

Meets like this are preparing the team for the NAIGC national competition April 6-9, said Dailey.  The team has high hopes for nationals, coming off of the performance at last year’s competition.

“Last year at nationals, we took six people and we had two days of competition,” Steele said.  “It was just really awesome to compete.  We competed with almost 1,000 other people.”

The national competition, held in Richmond, will host more than 1,000 athletes from many different schools.  The level of competition is elevated from regular season meets.

“I think we have a lot of talent and I think we are looking really awesome this year,” Steele said.  “I think we made a good impression last year at Nationals. People didn’t know that Liberty had a team.”

Liberty’s team has high hopes from all of its members for Nationals this year.  Dailey even set a goal for her team.

“I set a goal for them to bring back three top 10 finishes at Nationals,” Dailey said.

Before nationals begins, the team still has to complete its regular season.  This last weekend, the team traveled to North Carolina State University.  For results, check out the club sports score update on B2.  They travel again to UNC on March 26 for the last regular meet of the season.

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