The Leader Of The Pack
March 24, 2001
Tonight, Arizona State women's gymnastics makes the first stop on what it hopes will be a four destination post-season tour: Pacific-10 Conference Championships, NCAA Regionals, NCAA Championships, NCAA Super Six. But no matter what the Sun Devils' final conference standing, or whether they qualify for their 19th national championship meet in 20 years, much of the legend of this year's squad has already been etched into the annals of ASU history.
From record-setting crowds to record-setting performances, 2001 has been without a doubt one of the finest years in 26 seasons of Sun Devil gymnastics. And while the contributions of newcomers like freshman Maggie Germaine and junior-transfer Laura Moon are unmistakable, ASU's greatest asset might just be an inspirational senior who has given more than her seven competitive routines could ever begin to indicate.
Like any senior, Becky Acker went into 2001 hoping that her last season would be her best. A veteran of two Super Sixes, she had dreams not only of going back, but of leading the team to Georgia.
It was a lead she assumed from the first day of workouts, not when ASU was crafting perfect-10 routines, but when the Sun Devils were merely trying to tune up for the taxing season ahead.
'Those workouts are a lot harder on our bodies than anything we do during the regular season,' Acker said. 'I knew from earlier years that it was going to be tough on everyone, so I just tried to stay positive and be a leader.'
Already renowned for her work ethic, Acker's leadership wowed not only green underclassmen, but even fellow seniors.
'When we had to do strength testing, I was struggling,' senior Kelly Cowley said. 'I could feel people wanting to lean on me, but I was hurting. I needed to lean on someone else. And there was Becky.
'She carried the whole team through that. She was in front every time leading the team. We just followed her. She was our motivation.'
Front of the line, every time. What was true in pre-season workouts would be true weeks later in ASU's home opener. Facing a three-tenth deficit going into the final rotation with No. 1 UCLA, the Sun Devils needed a solid score on the floor exercise to pull off the upset.
The task ahead would be tough. If some of the Sun Devils hadn't believed, you wouldn't have blamed them. And so it was fitting that there was Acker, yet to compete that night, penciled in near the top of ASU's floor line-up.
As her teammates looked for someone to lean on, Acker gave her very best, tying her career-high with a 9.85 that launched the Sun Devils to a 49.325 event total and a thrilling victory.
'She never quits,' Cowley said. 'She has more determination than anyone I've ever seen. I don't know where we'd be without her.'
Divided, perhaps. From top to bottom, ASU has credited this season's list of accomplishments to an unprecedented team camaraderie, of which Acker is a chief conductor.
'She's part of the glue that keeps us together,' head coach John Spini said. 'Becky has such a great team spirit and her work ethic is second to none. Because of people like Becky, we come to the gym every day ready to workout like its meet night.'
However, it's on meet nights where Acker has taken a reluctant step back this season. While the Sun Devils demonstrated their depth using 12 gymnasts en route to their school-record 197.45-196.9 triumph over Arizona (March 2), the dramatic success of ASU newcomers has predominantly limited Acker's previous all-around depth to the floor exercise alone.
'I hate it, because I want to be out there competing,' Acker said. 'It's tough to come to terms with. I feel like I'm trying so hard but my body won't do things that it used to. Mentally, I feel like I can do anything, but practices are a lot harder than they used to be.'
It's just one of the changes Acker has been forced to tackle this season. Much like the way her sprit and her body are at war, so are the objects of her energy and enthusiasm.
Graduating this spring with a major in marketing and a minor in communications, Acker has already begun the job hunt, and is facing new challenges every step of the way.
'Just the other day I had an interview, but what everybody really wants is experience,' Acker said. 'My experience is gymnastics. It's still my top priority, the time in my day where I can block everything else out and let it go.'
But whether in or out of the gym, the future should be bright for Acker. After all, there are few who can speak as intelligently about the value of teamwork, and there are likely to be even fewer who will attack life with such passion and devotion.
'That's the thing I love most about Becky,' Cowley said. 'All of the traits that make her such a great gymnast, she puts all of those into her personal life. That's how you know she's going to be successful. That's why I look up to her. She'll always be a leader.'
First in line, every time. Now, forever.
This is the first of four installments saluting the seniors of ASU gymnastics.
By Jason Bellamy
ASU Media Relations