Competing in a team championship without a team. That's the task for Utah State's Tana Call-Davis and Brigham Young's Korie Jackman tonight.
They qualified for the NCAA gymnastics championships as at-large all-arounders and have the same chance as everyone else to win the all-around title or make Saturday night's individual-event finals as anyone else, but they'll labor in relative obscurity."I just feel like this lonely little person in a big place," said Jackman, not sounding forlorn at all. "We're trying to get past that."
Davis, as the No. 4 qualifier in the at-large field, will rotate with fourth-seeded Nebraska, and Jackman, the fifth seed, will rotate with the hometown team, Georgia.
That means most eyes in Georgia Coliseum will be on Jackman's rotation, though she'll perform after the Georgia team is done on each event.
"I think that will help me," said Jackman. "I like performing for people."
Jackman got used to competing without crowds as a member of Orem's All-American Gymnastics club, and she qualified for three Class I national championships. "I could handle it then," she says. "I didn't know what it was like to be with a team. Now that I look back, I don't like club gymnastics."
Jackman is the first BYU female gymnast to ever qualify for the NCAA finals, and three weeks ago, she set a record for state collegiate gymnasts by scoring 38.95 all-around, the highest ever, breaking Utah's Megan Marsden's mark of 38.85.
Jackman, a freshman from Springville, fell from balance beam at the Midwest Regional two weeks ago but says now maybe she's glad of it because it put her in the Georgia rotation.
She and Coach Brad Cattermole, in his first full season, are so new to college gymnastics they don't know the routines of the national finals and are learning by trial and error. That hurt BYU in the regional meet, and the team didn't recover enough to qualify for this 12-team field.
Cattermole worries that he and Jackman may be a little too calm - "underpressured," he says.
Utah State's Davis, a junior from Minnesota, is also a first-timer at nationals, though Coach Ray Corn has taken all-arounders several times.
"I'm excited and a little nervous, but it will go away when it's time to compete," says Davis.
Her only cheering section will be her husband, Craig, and Aggie staff members. "Without a team, it's really different," she says. "That's the hardest thing."
The Aggies were the No. 13 qualifier for the 12-team national field and have the honorary title of "alternate" team, but they didn't get NCAA plane tickets to Athens.
Davis holds the Aggie all-around record of 38.1 and scored 38.0 in the regional. "I knew I could break it," says Davis. "We have three or four girls on the team who could break it. I just happened to be the one, and next year, my record will be broken."
Corn says Davis in some ways is the best gymnast USU has ever produced. "In terms of difficulty she may not be the best, but in terms of being an all-around gymnast, she's the best I've ever had.
"She's so clean," he adds. "She never bends her knees; she has a great deal of execution. Her grace and elegance is what gives her that presence in the arena. And she's always happy, never down in the mouth," Corn says.
Her marriage, he says, was the best thing for her; she became a better gymnast and student after getting married.
The collegiate nationals are the biggest meet Davis has ever performed in. She competed in the Minnesota high school finals, which are bigger there than clubs, and trained year-round at a club without turning to elite/Class I competition.
Qualifying for the college finals is a reaffirmation of personal faith in herself. "I always knew I could compete with girls who came from clubs," she says. But a back injury when she was a freshman and ankle injury last year kept her from proving it until now.