Gymnasts Build Strength In and Out of Gym During First Week of Practice

Sept. 22, 2007

The Washington gymnastics team will not compete in its first official match until the calendars turn to January 2008, however now is the time of year when the team's success in that first meet and beyond is set in motion. The Huskies just wrapped up their first week of practice, five days packed with workouts, team meetings, and a slew of activities designed to help the coaches and athletes strengthen bonds and welcome five freshmen into the fold.

At the beginning of Friday afternoon's practice, second-year Head Coach Joanne Bowers had a chance to reflect on the contrast between the current week's activities and those of one year earlier when she was grabbing the reins at Washington for the first time.

'Last year I guess I felt like I was constantly treading water, trying to keep my head above water,' said Bowers from the Huskies practice facility inside Bank of America Arena. 'This year I'm swimming on a steady pace. There's still a lot to do and there's a lot we want to accomplish because we're nowhere near where we want to be obviously, but it's a steady swim right now, not that flailing around,' Bowers laughs.

'I trust the staff and the team so much now because they've proved themselves and I think they trust me because I've proved myself to them, so we all trust each other a lot more now. Until you go through adversity together you don't know if this is a person you can count on, is this a person that's going to have my back? We all know we have each other's back now and I think we all want the same thing.'

Bowers proved herself by virtue of her Pac-10 co-Coach of the Year award and West Region Coach of the Year award in her inaugural season. She took the Huskies back to the West Regional where they placed fifth, one year after missing the Regional for the first time in program history. Now Bowers is raising expectations once again.

'What our expectations were for them last fall, I think a lot of the athletes thought they'd never be able to do it. By the end of the season everybody was so pleased that we hit a lot of what our goals were, but I said if we keep our goals the same we're going to be really disappointed at the end of this year.'

To that end, the Huskies met early in the week to discuss what each gymnast can do to help the team succeed as a whole.

'We went around the room and had each person talk about what positive attributes they can bring to the table and what they are willing to do for the team. When you say it out loud in front of a group you have to take some ownership to it,' Bowers says. 'I think the thing we were most impressed about as a staff is how much the group cares. You can coach some really talented athletes but you can't make them care. Sometimes if you care more than they do that's not a good thing. They care a lot, so you're like `okay we can do this.''

The first week back in the gym gave Bowers and staff a chance to evaluate each gymnast as far as conditioning and stress the basics on each event. Friday featured a practice meet designed to ramp up the intensity in the early going.

'We're putting them on the spot and everybody's a little nervous and it's going to be really noticeable who trained all summer and is hitting the ground running versus who's going to take a month or two to get back in shape before we get going again,' Bowers says.

Competition and goal-setting was just one aspect of the first week, however. There was also a large dosage of fun and games to welcome everyone back. On Tuesday, the team boarded the famous Seattle tour boat/bus Ride the Ducks and explored the city by land and by sea. That was followed by a team dinner with all the support staff at The Ram. Thursday was highlighted by a cookout at the Bowers household after weather altered the planned trip to Golden Gardens.

The activities have given the team a chance to get acquainted with the five new freshmen: Haley Bogart (Woodside, Calif.), Karen Cain (Kyle, Texas), Danielle Henderson (Visalia, Calif.), Kristen Linton (Edmonds, Wash.), Samantha Walior (Prior Lake, Minn.).

'It's been really interesting to watch the five of them. They come from different states, and they're very different from shy to outgoing. Their gymnastics backgrounds are even different from how they were coached. Bringing this group together, they've already started to bond, you can tell they're starting to be good friends,' says Bowers. 'But our upperclassmen made some comments to them (Thursday) night about how they were so impressed with them right off the bat for their work ethic and their commitment to the team, how they're so excited to have them part of the group and they're already showing that they're going to be good college gymnasts.

'We want them to be very proud of the fact that they're at University of Washington, and be grateful to compete for UW. They all really want to be here. Are they getting homesick, sore? Yes, they're going through all that. We keep telling them it's all normal stuff, give it some time. We're very excited with what they're bringing to the team.'

Husky fans should be excited as well to see what develops with the GymDawgs over the fall months. Mark Dec. 9 on the calendar for the Husky Intrasquad Meet, as it will be the first chance for fans to glimpse what the Huskies have in store for the coming season.

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