Lady Flames impress at NAIGC Nationals, finishing third in large field of teams

The Liberty University gymnastics team had a solid season this year, finishing as runner-up in its Duke Dog Classic meet against James Madison University Feb. 10 and its Buckeye Blast facing Ohio State Feb. 16. The team also brought home first place in the Flipping Flames Invitational March 23 against JMU. The team used these meets to prepare for the NAIGC Nationals held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 10-13.

“I don’t feel like it was different for any other meets. I feel we used every meet as a building block to be confident by the time we got to nationals,” Head Coach Jessie Lowe said. “We just did a lot of routine work trying to build consistency and did a little bit of teamwork assignments too to just help build that team energy heading into nationals.”

The consistency showed, with the Lady Flames finishing third in the Level 9 team finals, totaling 107.8 points behind only Texas A&M (108.55) and Penn State (113.5). Over 100 teams attended the competition at the Albuquerque Convention Center, battling it out for a spot on the podium.

“The whole season we had goals written on the board of what we wanted to have accomplished,” sophomore Isabella Sierra said regarding the team’s preparation for nationals. “By the time we got to nationals, a lot of them weren’t things that were necessarily skill goals or routine goals, but they were just ways we can encourage each other as a team and how we could come together as one and then unite under Christ so that … going into nationals, we knew that we all had each other’s back.”

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Despite finishing second the season before, Lowe was pleased with the way her team performed. At times she felt her team could have brought more to the competition, but the second-year coach left the national meet with overwhelming hope for the future of the program.

“I feel they did really well. I’m super proud of their effort,” Lowe said. “Something we focused on all year was just put the effort forward and leave the results up to how God needs them to be. We left a little bit on the table both days at prelims and finals, so that was a little bit of a bummer. …  To go to the top three and take home another banner for our program without hitting 100% of our best, (it) just means we’re so capable of more, and that’s exciting.”

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In the individual competitions, senior Sophie Boone showed up big for the Lady Flames, tying for third in floor exercise. This was the only competition Boone was able to compete in, as she has been recovering from a broken elbow she suffered in the fall season. Sophomore Sarah Baugher qualified for the vault and floor finals, with freshman Katherine Haluck qualifying in floor exercise and Sierra in beam. 

Looking back at her second year leading the program, Lowe is proud of the way her team embraced the Lady Flames’ culture and put it into practice on the national stage.

“This team understood the assignment from the very first day, and we put everything we could into it,” Lowe said. “The goals stay the same in terms of all of the things that we tried to work towards in terms of team culture and being healthy athletes in general and putting our best effort forward. I know the program that we’ve built is going to promote a very successful team for the years to come.”

Johnson is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion

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