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Utah State gymnastics: Aggies finding success under first-year coach

Published: Saturday, March 22 2014 7:45 p.m. MDT

PROVO — With a new coach at the helm and new energy within the gym, the Utah State gymnastics program has been rejuvenated this season.

The Aggies posted a 196.075 Saturday at the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championship, which is the team’s highest score since a 196.225 against BYU in 2004, and USU has qualified for NCAA regionals as a team for the first time since 2007.

In fact, Saturday’s score was the fifth highest team score in program history.

“I feel like the name of the program has been resurrected,” USU’s first-year head coach Nadalie Walsh said. “I feel like when I took the job, I knew it could be done,” she said. “It’s just amazing to get it done in one year.”

Though the Aggies finished fifth at the first-ever MRGC meet Saturday, USU finished just .025 behind BYU and .050 behind Southern Utah University — and all five conference teams scored better than a 196.

The Aggies have come a long way in just a little time.

It started last summer when Walsh was named the third head coach in program history, replacing Jeff Richards, whose contract was not renewed after last season.

Walsh brought in a completely new staff, and result was an attitude change in the gym.

“Everybody in practice enjoys being there,” junior gymnast Sarah Landes said. “Everybody enjoys each other’s company. There’s a feeling of confidence that runs through everybody that I feel like we had been lacking in the past. We step into a meet and we’re not worried about losing, we’re not worried about falling and bad scores. We’re now a worry-free team. We go out there, have fun, do our best and enjoy it. That’s when we get the results we want.”

Walsh’s big philosophy was keeping her gymnasts loose and letting them be who they are.

That attitude isn't just noticeable in the team's scores, but also in the team’s routines.

On floor, as one gymnast competed to the tune of Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night,” every Aggie gymnast cheered loudly while donning a set of shades. Other routines involved crowd participation.

“I want them to realize it’s how you feel on the inside and it’ll show how you perform on the outside,” Walsh said. “They’re confident, and it’s real and they trust each other. I feel like they trust our lead. Just all of that put together has allowed us to make a complete turnaround.”

The Aggies are now rolling as they prepare for the upcoming NCAA regionals, which will be held on April 5.

Not only did USU post its best score in 10 years Saturday, the Aggies have put together three consecutive meets of at least 196.

“We haven’t peaked yet,” Walsh added. “We haven’t had our perfect meet. We haven’t had every girl hit yet. I just feel like it’ll all come together at regionals and on the regional stage, I’m not worried about the girls. They’re not going to be nervous. They feel like they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

The NCAA will announce gymnastics regional pairings Monday for the NCAA regionals. Six venues across the country will host the regionals. Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Minnesota, Penn State and Washington will be host schools this season.

All four of Utah’s collegiate gymnastics programs will compete in this year’s NCAA regionals, much to the delight of Walsh.

“I think it’s great to not be the stepsister in the group,” Walsh said with a grin. “We’re just as good as the rest of the (Utah) teams, we just have to refine some things.”

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