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USU gymnastics: seniors celebrate careers at conference championships

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 22 2013 4:25 p.m. MDT

Utah State gymnastics will head to Cedar City, Utah, this weekend to compete in the Western Athletic Conference Championships. With the conclusion of the season, comes the end of an era for the team’s two seniors Amelia Montoya and Amanda Watamaniuk.

The pair will graduate this spring after four-year careers as Aggies. With plans set for the future, they are excited for the weekend’s competition, but sad to see this chapter of their lives come to an end.

As most athletes move through the stages of competition, they can go into the collegiate level not expecting much to change. In the world of gymnastics though, the differences between what the girls are used to and NCAA competition are significant.

Most athletes probably started playing their sport competitively in junior high. As they get to college, they just have to adjust to new teammates and a faster pace. Gymnasts, however, have been spending hours a day in the gym for most of their lives. From the time they can walk and balance, they are working toward their goal of a successful gymnastics career.

As they work their way up, the field gets narrowed down and the numbers of teammates get smaller. At the club level, their time is spent as an individual, rather than as part of a team. As they transition to college, that mentality changes drastically.

“It’s something that you don’t get to experience anywhere else. It was way different than club gymnastics,” Watamaniuk said. “It’s so fun having the whole team behind you. That camaraderie is amazing. I’d never had that before.”

That team mentality is what keeps the individuals going and motivated through the hard times. The hard times are something these two seniors are probably more familiar with than they would like.

Head coach Jeff Richards can’t believe these two are finishing their senior year. In his fifth year at the helm of the gymnastics program, they are the first athletes to graduate that he recruited.

“These are the first two that have come through the program from start to finish with me. We all had our ups and downs, but I can’t believe they’re seniors already,” Richards said. “It’s been really fun getting to know them and who they are, seeing them become young women and move on. These are two great individuals who I’m really excited to see where they go. They’re going to be great out of here.”

Watamaniuk was forced to sit out her final season as an Aggie after a significant elbow injury.

“It was hard when I found out I was done, there were a lot of ups and downs and a lot of crying,” she said. “You just learn that gymnastics isn’t forever. Your body just can’t take that. It was a matter of if I was going to end early or end at the end of the season.”

Watamaniuk started and ended her collegiate career with injuries. Coming in as a freshman, she was still recovering from ankle surgery, and it wasn’t long before she broke her wrist, requiring another surgery.

Throughout her career, Montoya has also been dealing with injuries. She began her freshman season as an all-around competitor but tore her groin muscle a few weeks in and was limited for the rest of the year. Since that point, she has been dealing with some minor injury or another.

“I’ve just been known as the girl who’s been plagued with injuries. I was a kid who always had injuries. I’ve just never quite gotten healthy after the first one,” Montoya said.

These gymnasts haven’t let their difficulties stop them. They have taken the hard things and made the best of them, while learning from them at the same time.

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