Shannon Hortman Evans this season became the first BYU gymnast to compete at the NCAA National Championships in the last 14 years. The sophomore from American Fork, Utah, took full advantage of her well-earned opportunity, delivering an All-American performance in St. Louis to finish seventh overall on bars with a 9.900.
The experience at nationals is nothing like other gymnastic meets, and the road to earning that opportunity demands a lot of dedication and hard work. We asked head coach Guard Young and BYU's newly named second-team All-American herself about competing in nationals and what that means for the BYU program.
The long road to nationals
Evans came into the season after having surgery on her rotator cuff during the summer.
"It was a really big bummer because it’s usually a full-year recovery," Evans revealed. "Thankfully, it didn’t take that long. And then to come back and do bars at nationals after my shoulder—it was an awesome experience."
Coming back to the gym after surgery, Evans trained and fought for her spot at nationals. Young knew she was ready.
"She came out and did the training, and you could just tell she understood her turns and as coaches we knew what she needed to do," Young explained. "I knew she was physically prepared. To be on the big stage on live television, on a podium for the first time of her career following some really good gymnastics, she held her own. She proved a lot to herself and to the gymnastics community that she deserved to be out here."
The nationals goal
“Making it to nationals has been my goal since freshman year,” Evans reflected. “I remember the feeling of accomplishing that goal, and I knew coming into it I needed to have another goal—so I had something to work toward at nationals instead of my end goal being to make it. I went out on a long stretch and made it my goal to become BYU’s next All-American and train for that and did all I could.”
Young was in the gym with Evans the two weeks leading up to the national competition as she continued to train to achieve her goal. That training honed in on specific uneven bars practice while also creating a mock-nationals setting.
“She really took preparing for the event very seriously,” Young said. “She didn’t just come into the gym for two weeks and mess around; she was on a mission. We tried to simulate what it was going to be like in the meet, where you have to sit a long time. We’d have her do these 30-second practice turns and then she’d have to sit for four to five minutes, which is really boring. But she took that training and preparation to heart.”
With her All-American goal in mind, Evans entered the meet in St. Louis ready to face the highest level of competition. She prepared for her routine while waiting for her name to be called following Elizabeth Price of Stanford competing on bars. Price then shocked the entire arena as she received a perfect 10.0.
“It sent shivers through my whole body because it was incredible to watch,” Evans recounted. “It’s hard to go after because you don’t know if the judges are going to kill you or if they’re going to take it as a build."
Thankfully, the coaches took Price's routine as a build for Evans.
"When I stuck my dismount, it was the best feeling in the world," Evans remembered. "I was so happy to be able to represent BYU like that and get our name back out there at nationals for the first time in a long time.”
Competing with the Red Rocks
National competition is unique for individual competitors as the athletes are assigned to qualifying teams during practice and competition rotations. Evans was assigned to be with No. 5 University of Utah, the in-state rival of No. 17 BYU.
“At the beginning of the meet, it was different not being with your team,” Evans shared. “You don’t want to mess up their vibe. But toward the middle, [the Utes] just adopted me right into their team. It was a little surprising considering they’re such a rival, but I would expect nothing less.”
The camaraderie of gymnastics carried Evans and the Utes beyond the rivalry.
“I think it was awesome that we got the draw with Utah,” Young said. “We’re trying to be like them in a lot of ways, especially with their gymnastics program. It’s a hard thing to come out as an individual, and the team is just supposed to adopt their assigned individuals. The Utes did just that. She was a Utah Ute for one evening wearing blue.”
Evans said the Utes cheered her on just like her team would have.
“They cheered just as loud as my team would cheer for me if I stuck my dismount at nationals,” Evans remembered. “It was a great feeling being with them.”
Going into next year
This season marks the highest rank for the BYU Cougars in 13 years, a significant accomplishment for the third season of Young’s coaching history in the program. And he doesn’t plan to stop at No. 17.
“I think gymnastics is a lot about reputation, and we’ve been slowly building that all year, not only with Shannon but as a team,” Young said. “This is going to be great motivation for her and for the rest of the girls to work hard this summer. I tell the girls the summer is the season. We’ll get back in the gym and go to work and get our team here to nationals.”
Evans also plans to return to the national level during her junior season.
“This whole experience gives me confidence going into next year because I now know that I just competed with the top gymnasts in the world and placed seventh doing it,” Evans said. “That was an awesome feeling. Not only for myself, but this confidence is going to go back to the team and it’s going to make them want to get to nationals themselves.”