The beginning of a new gymnastics era

The UAA gymnastics team had been attending open practices on a voluntary basis since Aug. 1 when assistant coach Aline Cartwright returned to Anchorage. Tanya Ho joined the team on Aug. 13, and due to NCAA regulations, the team was not allowed to officially practice together until Sept. 22.

Madeleine Arbuckle receives instructions from assistant coach Alina Cartwright during a home meet at the Alaska Airlines Center. Photo credit: GoSeawolves

NCAA bylaw article 17 states rules regarding playing and practice seasons. It limits the days a sport is allowed to be in season with official practice times. In season, coaches are allowed to assign 20 hours of mandatory practice per week.

During out-of-season periods, coaches aren’t allowed to give their athletes any workouts, assignments or structure. In gymnastics, they can only spot their athletes and provide recommendations to prevent them from injuring themselves.

Ho used the team’s first day of official practice for a special event. She required skill tests from all of her healthy athletes. Skill testing describes a setting similar to a competition scene. All athletes were required to present their elements on each of their events. That way, Ho and Cartwright got an idea of where their athletes’ athletic abilities and overall shape after returning from summer.

Freshman all-around gymnast Michaela Phillips was eager to present herself well, but also experienced nervousness going into her skill test.

“Last night, I was trying to prepare myself but I was shaking when I walked into the gym,” Philipps said. “When I got off the beam, it felt like I drank five red bulls.”

Ho, who coached at Sacramento State before accepting the head coach position at UAA, created the event as a motivator for her athletes to workout over summer. A former gymnast herself, she is aware of the fact that longer breaks from practicing gymnastics can result in the inability to perform certain skills.

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“We did it because during open practice we can’t give them assignments. We are only here as safety exceptions. So, we wanted to make sure that they are working and have some sort of goal for the first day of practice. So, this [skill test] was their goal. It kind of got the pre-season going,” Ho said.

Team captain Madeleine Arbuckle, a senior all-around gymnast, was excited about the opportunity to test her skills under pressure and took away many positives for her team from the experience. Arbuckle just added a Tkatchev, or reverse Hecht, back into her uneven bar routine after having recovered from her shoulder surgery in 2016.

“We are still three and half months away from our first actual meet, so I would say this is closer to where we were for our November intrasquad meet last year. I think as a team, we are in a better place. We have a good foundation to work from and now we just really need to work on a few more upgrades, becoming more consistent and performing under pressure,” Arbuckle said.

For Ho and Cartwright, the skill testing was important to evaluate the gymnastics team’s strengths and areas of improvement.

“We are using the testing to get an idea of our events and how our lineups are,” Ho said. “We are weak right now on vault and bars and we are stronger on floor and beam. So that helped us realize, ‘Okay, this is what we have and this is what we need to work on.’”

Cartwright agreed with Ho about the team’s great potential on beam and floor.

“Beam was one our best events last year too. I think floor could be very good this year,” Cartwright said.

On beam, UAA produced a new program record of 48.950 during their dual meet against Centenary College at the Alaska Airlines Center on March 5, 2017. Additionally, Sophia Hyderally recorded a new individual school-record and won the beam co-title with a score of 9.925 at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championships on March 18.

Mountain Pacific Sports Federation co-champion Sophia Hyderally performs her beam routine at a home meet. Hyderally is the school-record holder in the event with a score of 9.925. Photo credit: GoSeawolves

Senior Kendra Daniels, known for her beam and floor routines, also feels confident that those two particular events will make a difference for UAA’s gymnastics team this season.

“My floor routine went better than I expected. I finally made a three-pass routine and I have never done that in my entire gymnastics career. Before, I have always done a two-pass routine, so that was exciting,” Daniels said.

To learn new skills is quite a challenge for collegiate gymnasts since it is a sport in which people generally peak really early in their careers. To learn a new and more difficult skill during her senior year in college makes Daniels a strong competitor for the squad.

The Seawolves feel ready to tackle the season under their new leadership, which has high expectations of them.

“We definitely want to improve our team ranking within our conference this season,” Arbuckle said.

The gymnastics team’s Green and Gold intrasquad meet will be held at the Alaska Airlines Center on Saturday, Dec. 9.