Aggie gymnastics' seniors culminate long journey with WAC championships

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 22 2012 1:53 p.m. MDT

LOGAN — For the two seniors on the Utah State gymnastics team, this weekend’s Western Athletic Conference Gymnastics Championship is a chance to close out the regular season — and their careers as Aggies — in front of friends and family.

For the first time since 2006, the WAC Championship is being held in Logan in the familiar confines of the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

“It’s exciting to have it here,” said Haley Hogan, a senior from Centerville, Utah. “My parents have never been able to come to the WAC meet, so I’m excited for them and my old teammates to be able to come and watch.”

As the team has been mathematically eliminated from the postseason regional meet, the WAC Championship is the culminating meet for the team as a whole. Head coach Jeff Richards said the team is excited about the advantage it has of hosting the meet.

“It’s exciting to be at home. We like being at home in front of our crowd; our fans are great at home," he said. “It’s nice because they’ll have that comfortable feel going into it.”

Richard said the most important thing in preparation for Saturday is treating it like an everyday meet. The team is striving to maintain a routine.

“We’re just preparing them mentally to stay in the game, helping them rally themselves, not trying to overdo it when they get to the meet,” Richards said. “We don’t want them to go into it thinking ‘Oh, it’s the WAC, so I have to win.’ We just want them to do their gymnastics like they do every day.”

The Aggies’ other senior, Rebecca Holliday, said even after having the team work with a sports psychologist, the biggest thing they took from it was realizing how prepared and focused they already are.

“This week we’re really just focusing on doing our thing and having fun,” Holliday, a native of Orange, Calif., said. “It’s not about doing anything extra, just being us.”

Hogan agreed when she said, “We’re just concentrating on doing what we know how to do, and being confident about it. That’s the only thing we really need to do.”

Looking back on 'Roller coaster' Aggie careers

For Hogan and Holliday, it has been a bumpy ride to get to this point in their gymnastics careers. Both have fought through injuries and tough seasons that have severely impacted their time as Aggies.

“It’s been a wild ride. It’s really been a roller coaster with a lot of ups and downs,” Holliday said.

Richards’ first year as coach was the same year the duo came in as freshmen. He has had the opportunity to work with them and see them grow as student-athletes and as individuals.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been interesting to see them through it,” Richards said.

From the beginning, Richards has described Holliday as “high-strung.” However, through the years, he has been able to watch her grow up and learn to relax and keep calm. After a rough sophomore season followed by an even rougher junior season, she has put up a fight and bounced back better than Richards expected she would.

“To see her bounce back from last year has been neat because I wasn’t sure she’d be able to do that. It’s been cool to see her recover and get tougher and have a better year,” he said. “She probably could have done a little bit better, but you’re always going to think that. She’s always been on the verge of getting that 39.000 in the all-around, but just always has that one event that trips her up.”

Throughout Hogan’s time at Utah State, she has been fighting nagging injuries that have slowly degenerated her ability to compete. As a freshman she was competing as an all-arounder, but each season has eliminated an event, leaving her solely as a beam competitor this year.

“Each year, we were taking events out, trying to help her last and get through her senior year without killing her,” Richards said. “Slowly but surely, she’s been a steady kid. She’s hung in there.”

Hogan said her time competing, including the trials that have come with it, have taught her to keep pushing through and never give up.

“When things aren’t going so well and you’re dealing with injuries, it’s hard, but you just have to keep going,” she said.

Holliday said the entire experience was harder than she expected it would be, but entirely worth it.

“I’m so glad I did it all because I learned so much and I feel like I’m a way stronger person from it,” she said. “There was stuff that I had to do that I didn’t think I ever could. It was life changing.”

Richards said the two seniors are assets to the program and have made his time as coach that much more enjoyable.

“It’s been fun to see them progress and grow and come through the program,” Richards said. “I’ll definitely miss them next year.”

Improving as a team

As the team has gone through the season, the general consensus is to see success. Even if it doesn’t show in the win and loss columns, everyone has learned a lot and felt significantly better about the overall atmosphere of the team.

“I just feel like all of us have done so much better this year. Everyone is so positive, and it’s been so much better than other years,” Hogan said. “It feels like we’re putting things together now.”

On an individual level, Hogan said she worked to focus on the little things this year, rather than shooting for the complicated routines.

“I have done a lot better form-wise this year. I used to go for the hard stuff, but this year I just backed off and worked on getting the little things really well,” she said. “I just wanted to get the higher scores with the little things, and I feel like I’ve done that.”

Holliday said the biggest impact on this season has been the chemistry between members of the team. She said that because of that, she sees this as the best season in the time she has been an Aggie.

“With the chemistry of the team, how we’ve done overall and how I’ve done personally, it’s been the best season so far,” Holliday said. “It’s a young team, but for me to be able to say to them that they’ve contributed to it being the best of my four years is hopefully motivating for them. I know it definitely motivates me.”

Holliday also said she sees this year as a success individually because she finally accomplished her goal of becoming an all-around competitor. As a freshman, she had a few meets at all-around, but then started dealing with injuries.

“This year, I’ve done it and I’m proud of that. I was hurt and dealing with some lingering injuries at the beginning of the year, but I pushed through and am happy with what I’ve done,” Holliday said.

As Hogan and Holliday have gone through their gymnastics careers, the attitude toward Aggie gymnastics has become more positive.

“In past years, people have been like ‘Oh, you’re a gymnast?’ but the attitude has totally changed now and it’s more like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re on the gymnastics team?’ It’s cool,” Hogan said. “We’ve changed ourselves, too. We’re more positive.”

Both seniors will graduate this December and are excited for what the future holds. With that, though, they will honor their time as Aggies and keep that with them forever.

“A lot of being an Aggie is loyalty. It’s great to be a part of that and to have that community no matter what,” Holliday said. “Once you’re an Aggie, you’re always an Aggie. Even though I’ll be leaving, I’ll still have this with me.”

For the first time since 2006, Utah State gymnastics is hosting the Western Athletic Conference Gymnastics Championships. The five-team conference championship meet gets underway Saturday, March 24, at 6 p.m. (MT) at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Live results and live streaming links will be available through UtahStateAggies.com.

Adult tickets are $10, youth (under 12 years old) are $5. All students with valid ID from WAC schools and seniors over 65 years are able to purchase tickets through the Utah State Athletics Ticket Office in-person only. Student and senior tickets are $5 each. Tickets are available online 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com by clicking on the “buy/renew tickets” under the “tickets” drop down menu. For more information, contact the Athletics Ticket Office at 1-888-USTATE1, or visit the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum during business hours.

Fans can follow the Aggie gymnastics program at twitter.com/USUGymnastics or on Facebook at Utah State Gymnastics. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics or on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics.

Megan Allen is with Athletic Media Relations at Utah State University.

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