Eamonn McCullough – Staff Writer
The electric crackle of excitement in the Sponberg Gymnastics Studio on Saturday, March 12 was almost palpable as four Gustie senior gymnasts stepped out onto the floor for their last-ever home meet against a strong Hamline squad.
“Throughout the whole meet the energy was amazing. We were dancing, laughing and just enjoying our time out there together. I don’t think there was a time that I wasn’t smiling,” Senior Annie Gladitsch said.
Although the Pipers would go on to win the meet by a slim margin (179.050 to the Gusties’ 177.325), the final outcome did nothing to detract from the outstanding performances put on by many Gusties.
Early on in the meet, First-year Abby Willis took 3rd on the vault, setting an early tone that was buoyed by the ensuing events, including bars, beam and floor. In another show of the Gusties’ rising talent, First-year Kendra Smaby took first in the bars, and Annie Corbett, who earned All-American honors last year, took second on the beam. Willis wrapped up the meet with a high note, taking second on the floor. Scores notwithstanding, every member of the team found every opportunity to shine throughout the night.
“Every routine that night was special and every single person put forth their best effort. I will always look back on this night with a smile on my face,” Gladitsch said.
Although the highest-scoring performances were mostly posted by underclass athletes, it was Seniors Gladitsch, Alyssa Teper, Sam Tonjes and Kaytlyn Brenneman who stole the show. After an inconsistent fall of training and a year of uncertainty, it seemed like nobody was ready to let their last home meet come to pass without having as much fun as possible.
“Overall, I just felt a sense of gratitude throughout the whole meet. I was grateful that we got to celebrate and have a senior night, grateful for such a supportive and loving team, and grateful for all the good energy and fun that came from the meet. Looking back, you always think of how you want your senior night to go. You are having the feelings of both sadness and happiness, and are just trying to make it the best experience for yourself, but also as everything is quickly coming to an end. But I can honestly say that I couldn’t have asked for a better senior night and a better way to end my career at home,” Gladitsch said.
This sense of gratitude is certainly not misplaced. The Gustie Gymnastics team, like most other athletics at Gustavus and across the country, has had a season marred with setbacks and uncertainty.
“In the fall we had to take a lot of breaks due to COVID protocol and it was really scary to go into Christmas break with the uncertainty of what kind of season we would get, or if we would even get one at all,” Gladitsch said.
Although inconsistencies in training are an obvious setback for most any sport, COVID has been an especially high hurdle for gymnasts.
“We weren’t able to practice with everyone on the same even like we normally would have been able to. Our season started way later than normal, and has many fewer meets. we’ve had to quarantine and take “pauses” on practicing much more than we ever would, which for gymnastics is huge. To put this in perspective, most competitive gymnasts only take off a couple weeks total out of the whole year, just because of how much repetition, consistency, and persistent strength gymnastics takes, so to have to take off months at a time, this has been a huge change and challenge. Nonetheless, we are persevering,” Brenneman said.
However, the global COVID pandemic was no match for the positivity and resilience shown by the team in the face of every challenge. The Gustavus Gymnastics team was able to concentrate on some of the most special aspects of the sport this season despite everything.
“I would say the most meaningful thing I have experienced with this team though is the growth in myself that all of these inspiring ladies have pushed me to learn and become. That, and countless times this team has brought out some big belly laughs in me and made my heart smile. Those are the moments I will truly treasure forever. I would also add, that there is no feeling like that of when you finally make a big skill for the first time ever and land it to the loudness and pure joy of your teammates exploding in an uproar of cheering across the entire gym,” Brenneman said.
Although their home competitions might be coming to an end, the Gusties still have two more chances to showcase their hard work and improvements, starting with a meet at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 18 at UW-Eau Claire. Despite coming off such an incredible weekend, there is still plenty of room to work and grow.
“Overall, I think moving forward we just have to work on our consistency. I think pieces are definitely coming together and it is apparent as to how hard we have worked this preseason. I think it is just a matter of all of it coming together for us and competing like how we practice. For the rest of the season I am just excited to hopefully build upon our team scores and end our season with a bang. Overall I think if we just have fun these next two meets, that is all you could really ask for. I think we have shown resilience in our given situation and I think we’re just excited to see what we will accomplish and take moving forward,” Gladitsch said.
The Gusties will be back on the beams, bars, and bouncy floors starting this Thursday at UW-Eau Claire, and later on April 1th at Winona State.