One Last Chance To Dance

April 4, 2001

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After a Wednesday practice, somewhere between a team meeting and the parking lot, Kelly Cowley danced.

Practice, complete with stereo-manufactured crowd noise intended to simulate the environment of Coleman Coliseum at Saturday's NCAA Central Regional in Tuscaloosa, Ala., had been far from normal, but Cowley surprised no one with a few shakes and shimmies.

'She's always dancing around,' said junior Laura Moon, who has known Cowley for more than a decade dating back to their club years. 'She'll just bust out dancing at odd times. Music will come on and the dancing will come out. That's her personality.'

At least, that's part of it.

Sure, she beams more smiles than a finalist in the Miss America pageant and has been described with the word 'bubbly' more times than fine champagne, but there's another side, too.

There's the side that has her reviewing meet tapes at home and searching ESPN for any additional gymnastics footage she can get her hands on. That's the side of her personality that makes her surf the internet, monitoring the nation's other great teams and computing the figures that will launch ASU in the rankings.

Of late, that's the side that has kept her awake at night, tossing and turning with thoughts of the day's practice and visions of what lies ahead. That's the side that has made her ASU's team captain in every meaning of the word.

'I'm obsessed,' Cowley said with a laugh. 'But this team is so easy to care about. Last year you wanted to walk out of the gym and forget about it, but this year you want to remember everything. You want to look at the little things so we can be as close to perfection as we can be.

'I do. The minute I walk out of the gym, I don't lose that. It stays with me.'

In fact, Cowley admitted, gymnastics has probably followed her a little too closely in recent weeks, like a shadow that doesn't leave when the sun goes down.

Competing in three events per meet this season, Cowley completed her first 28 routines with only one fall, matching or setting career-highs on vault (9.9), uneven bars (9.925, twice) and floor exercise (9.975). Other than Moon, no ASU gymnast has more marks of 9.9-or-better this season than Cowley's nine.

But Cowley's near perfect year was tainted a bit with a fall in ASU's final home meet, and then a pair of falls at the Pac-10 Championships in Seattle, Wash. While others might have interpreted the lapse as a call for concentration, Cowley knew it was a reminder to let go.

'It's because I haven't been having fun,' Cowley said. '(Head coach) John (Spini) even pulled me aside and said, `You're trying too hard. You're a natural competitor and you just need to get in there and enjoy it and you'll get it done.'

'I've been so stressed out. I've been doing all the little things that don't really matter trying to make this our best year ever. I've been missing the bigger picture.

'All I need is a ticket to regionals. We've got the talent, we've got the ability, we'll get it done.'

The 'we' is the most important part of Cowley's statement. An All-American on bars her freshman year at Brigham Young University, and on floor as a sophomore in her first season at ASU, Cowley has tasted the individual accolades but longs for a superb team finish.

'I'm not trying to break any records or be an All-American in three events,' Cowley said. 'The most consistent team wins the championship. All we can do is try to hit 24-of-24 sets like we train for. I'm going to go in there and hit my routines for the team, so we can stand together with the 24.'

To do well at the NCAA Championships, even just to get there against their stiff competition at the NCAA Regional, the Sun Devils will not only rely on a trio of solid scores from Cowley, but also on her intangible traits. Because even more valuable than the fantastic grace and athleticism that make her a gymnast, is the intensity and confident swagger that make her a champion.

'John will ask about winning sometimes and she'll say, `Winning is everything,'' Moon said. 'That's Kelly. She's very intense. She wants to hit in practice as badly as she wants to at meets. She knows the right time to have fun, but she also knows when it's time to get it together and be really serious.'

Whether they share good-byes in Alabama, or advance to the NCAA Championships in Athens, Ga., time is fleeting for Cowley and her fellow seniors. Soon, Cowley will part ways with the sport that has defined so much of her young life. Soon, Cowley will become, in her words, a 'has-been.'

'I'll miss the challenge of the sport,' she said. 'No matter how long you are in it, you'll never be comfortable. You have to step out of your comfort zone and I love that. I love that in life in general.

'And I'll miss the friendships. You can't replace that. I'm going to have some of these friends for a lifetime.'

Graduating this spring with a major in sociology, Cowley said she is excited for the next stage of her life, thrilled at the thought of spending more time with her husband Jeremy Cowley.

But those days will come soon enough. Then, she'll have all the time in the world to waltz into the sunset in Jeremy's arms.

For now though, she's saving one last dance for gymnastics, hoping that her last turn will be under the lights of the Super Six.

This is the second of four installments saluting the seniors of ASU gymnastics.

By Jason Bellamy
ASU Media Relations

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