Jan. 10, 2014
LOGAN, Utah -
By Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
With an entirely new coaching staff leading the way, the Utah State gymnastics team is anxious to kickoff the 2014 competition season. Nadalie Walsh has taken the helm of the team, bringing along Josh Nilson and Andi Dolinsky as her assistants. As a staff, the three have spent the off-season revitalizing the atmosphere and attitude behind the Aggie gymnastics program. The team is healthy, conditioned and in high spirits about the upcoming season.
"I really believe in the process that we took the team through. They've had an entire coaching change, but there's been a lot of trust built. The girls are physically fit and they're mentally tough. They're ready," Walsh said. "I feel really good about it. We've had a lot of practice meets that all went really well, so I feel like their confidence is really up there."
The process of the team has been to get everyone to be competition-ready without pushing their bodies too far.
"Every single thing we did conditioning-wise was very specific to the sport and the skills that the girls perform. We kept the repetitions very low and did everything on very soft surfaces. This was very different for them and their bodies have been healing," Walsh said. "We inherited a lot of injuries and almost all of those are gone. They believe in this process. We set a goal to be at a certain point, and we gave them until now rather than forcing them to be there in October."
Luckily for the coaching staff, the Aggie team has gotten completely behind the process and the system. They have already seen the benefits of their efforts and are ready to implement the work they have put in to their competition.
"Heading into the first meet, the team has a whole new mentality and mindset. Coach Walsh and the rest of the staff have done an amazing job of pushing us and helping us understand what we are truly capable of achieving," said senior Paige Jones.
The Aggies have made a point of learning to trust each other and themselves as they work toward the shared goal of a successful season. They have learned that in order to succeed, they must work together and know what each athlete is capable of.
"There's a new feeling among the team of trusting our teammates that they are going to get up there and get the job done," said junior Sarah Landes. "It's a new team and a new year. I have never been more confident in our team and I'm excited for our hard work to pay off."
Leading the way in the turnaround of the program are two seniors in Jones and Christina Nye. As the most experienced members of the team, they know how to lead the group and work through the challenges they often face.
"We all feel really confident about heading into the season. The new staff has been wonderful. They have done all they could to get us to this point, now it's up to us to shock and awe everyone," Nye said.
For the coaching staff, a goal early on was to get the senior class to accept them and their system.
"For the seniors to be on board was really important because they've been here the longest," Walsh said.
"We are beyond excited for this season to begin. As a senior, this year has been a dream come true. It's completely different from years past and I can't wait to see what the year has in store," Nye said.
With the seniors are 10 additional returning lettermen. As a group, they bring a lot of talent and experience to the gymnastics floor.
"Everyone stands out. Sarah and Paige have been major contributors before, but I feel like the entire team stepped up to their level," Walsh said. "We have an entire team of girls like them. "
Joining the 12 familiar faces are seven new ones. The team welcomed five freshmen and two transfer student-athletes this off-season who are ready to make their mark as part of the Aggie program. That class has already shown the coaching staff what they are capable of and the work they are willing to put in.
"Bailey McIntire came in and can just do gymnastics. She can do her skills and didn't have to learn major things. Nothing in her routine is new, but it's cleaner and more refined. Charly Belliston kind of came in not knowing what to expect, but she's in there training all four events every week."
McIntire and the other freshmen have come in with high expectations and a lot of drive.
"I'm so excited for this season," McIntire said. "We've all been working so hard for it and it's finally here. I can't wait to surprise everyone with how good we are going to be. It's going to be a really fun and exciting year."
While the skills and events are a crucial part of the offseason training, the Aggies have made the main focus improving the attitude and disposition of the team both in and out of the gym.
"They're really happy. I truly believe that happy girls do better than grumpy girls. They are happy and fired up. They're ready. A good attitude and a happy environment is what is normal in our gym. There have been very few days where we as a staff have had to adjust any bad attitudes. They're just not there. They're happy and really enjoy what they're doing. We enjoy it. We treat them like adults and the respect is very mutual. When we ask them to do more than they think they're capable of, they believe in us and then believe in themselves," Walsh said.
The Aggies have a tough schedule ahead, facing five teams who are starting the year in the Troester/GymInfo Top 25. While the intensity of the competition could be intimidating, the staff and gymnasts are instead looking forward to it and feel confident about taking on those teams.
"I'm excited about the schedule. I don't think there's anywhere we go or any team we see that we're not as good as they are," Walsh said. "If you watch those other teams, then watch our girls, we're doing the same skills and the same routines. The team feels confident and that was the missing piece. I want to make this team as good as some of those teams. I think Utah State can easily be a Top 25 program and if I believe that then I can't be afraid to walk into an arena of a team like that. "
With the strong schedule, the next few months will mean a lot. The team is looking to qualify for the NCAA Regional Championships as a group, something that hasn't been done by the Aggies since 2007.
"We focus a lot on consistency. Going for that 24-of-24 events and not just focusing on the score is huge. I don't want them to see a 9.600 and get discouraged. If we hit all our routines, our team score will show it," Walsh said. "The girls want to go to Regionals and I think that is absolutely possible. I inherited a team that ended at 195.100 last year and that's all you need to get to Regionals. They know they can score that high and we've added new talent and have healthy girls."
With a new staff and a new system in place, the USU gymnasts have embraced a whole new mentality. As they begin the 2014 season, they are excited and confident to see the things they have practiced in the offseason be put into place.
"They coaches have taught us that what we are a part of is one of a kind and each girl is a crucial piece to the puzzle. Everyone is excited and that feeling comes from being prepared, knowing that we put in the time and quality numbers during the preseason. We're healthy, strong and confident," Jones said. "Going into my senior year, I have no regrets and am excited to show the community what Utah State gymnastics is all about."
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