'Proved it': ASU gymnastics is heading to regionals with confidence

In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, ASU gymnastics will compete in its first regionals since 2014

The No. 17 ASU women’s gymnastics team has been a team of improvements. From finishing last at the 2017 Pac-12 Championships to sixth overall in this year's competition, the Sun Devils have improved tremendously as they prepare to go into the University Park Regional for the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championship. 

The past two seasons for the Sun Devils were supposed to be rebuilding years. With the team coming off a disappointing 2017 season, the thought of finishing sixth at the Pac-12 Championships was beyond imaginable. The same goes for head coach Jay Santos being named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and Cairo Leonard-Baker being named Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year. All the success leads back to the one phrase the Sun Devils have lived by the whole season – "prove it."

The term means different things to each gymnast. For freshman phenom Leonard-Baker, it validates that their success is no longer a long shot. 

“It just means go out and prove that we’re not the underdog anymore,” Leonard-Baker said. “(We want to) prove that we’re a force to be reckoned with because I think we have proved this season that we are. It’s postseason now, and we do have to go to regionals, and I think we’re gonna kill it if we keep the same mentality and energy that we had at this meet.”

The Sun Devils had a historic season by many numbers, with a handful of meets where they reached 196+ scores and finishing with their best score since 2012 in the Pac-12 Championships. 

Santos noted that the team has been able to “prove it” all season long.

“We haven’t had that huge horrible meet. They have been really consistent in their scores," Santos said. “They’re not that far apart with home scores and away scores – we’re very close. Our average is not that far away from our RQS, so that’s what we talk about is being able to go out there and prove it and do it every single day and every meet and get after it.”

Junior transfer Anne Kuhm said the idea of “proving it” began before the season started.

“During preseason we were working hard, and we had a lot of skills and a lot of good girls,” Kuhm said. “But I think it was more about trusting ourselves and knowing we can do it and also show it to everyone.”

For gymnasts like senior Nichelle Christopherson, seeing the amount of growth that happened over such a short period of time is incredible. The lone senior has seen the team grow over the past two years, and with the season and her career coming to a close, emotions are running high.

“I’m trying not to think about it because it is sad, but our motto for (Pac-12) was 'embrace the moment,' and I really just try to do that today and every other day and practice really embracing the moment because these four years are so short, but they’re also so long when you’re in them,” Christopherson said. “I know I’m not going to get this chance again, so I just want to leave it all out on the floor.”

Christopherson said that during much of last year, she and her teammates improved their confidence by telling one another that they needed to trust the process.

“It was a rebuilding year, so to see that growth happen in such a short period of time, that doesn’t happen very often,” Christopherson said. “I can say that, without these coaches, that wouldn't happen, and without this team, that wouldn't happen, so it's been a team effort to get us here, and I’m so proud of everyone, and I know this is just the beginning.”

This is just the beginning of great things the team hopes to accomplish in the future, and for the first time since 2014, the Sun Devils will be heading to NCAA Regionals.

In the University Park Regional (Northeast), the Sun Devils will have to compete against No. 5 Florida, No. 8 Washington, West Virginia, Penn State and New Hampshire. Their regional competition will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST at Penn State on Saturday, April 7.


Reach the reporter at klbroder@asu.edu or follow @KellyBSays on Twitter. 

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