GymDawg Walior Beams With Pride

March 10, 2009

Sophomore gymnast Samantha Walior knows a thing or two about hard work. After a successful freshman season in which she competed in all 13 meets and was named to the All-Pac-10 second team, Walior seemed poised to have an outstanding sophomore season.

The Huskies, once a nationally-prominent gymnastics program, were undertaking a massive rebuilding project. In 2006, Washington missed making the NCAA Regional for the first time in program history. Joanne Bowers was hired in June of 2006, led her squad back to the Regional that next year, and was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year for her efforts. Then, last season, with the injection of new talent from Walior's freshman class, Washington made it back to the NCAA West Regional, finishing fourth with a 194.

Walior, who grew up in Prior Lake, Minn. never had much interest in heading west. As she waded through the college application process, she focused on schools close to home and directly south.

'I had no connection to the west coast,' said Walior. 'I was looking at Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan State, LSU... schools like that. I basically drew a line on a map and followed it south. Washington wasn't even on my radar.'

But after Bowers was hired, Walior quickly entered Washington's radar. Walior's club coach, Bryon Hough, became friends with Bowers when she served as an assistant coach at the University of Michigan. When Bowers became the head coach at Washington, Hough encouraged her to look closely at the UW.

'I saw Washington's rankings before I got here and I wasn't so sure,' said Walior. 'But as I got to know [assistant coaches] Shanna [Duggan] and David [McCreary], I started to get really interested in coming to Washington. So I came out on my official visit and I just knew this was where I wanted to be. It just felt right. I wanted to come out here and help rebuild the program.'

In her freshman season, Walior earned two individual titles, one on floor and one on the uneven bars and placed in the top-three nine times. She ended the 2008 season ranked No. 47 in the country on floor. The Huskies finished sixth in the Pac-10 and fourth at the NCAA West Regional, putting them at No. 27 in the nation at season's end.

Heading into 2009, Washington added five freshmen to the roster and although the team was young, Bowers had high expectations.

'We are so excited about this team,' said Bowers in the fall of 2008. 'The effort and attitude the team brings every day is just great. We have a lot of talent in the gym. We have the potential to be a very good team this year, but we're very young. It's exciting to see our talent and potential, but it will always come down to how well we perform against our competition.'

Then in October, Walior suffered a knee injury during a practice session. She had a torn meniscus in her left knee, requiring surgery if she was going to compete. Walior underwent the procedure and was told to expect a recovery period of at least 4-6 weeks, possibly longer. She hoped to return to the lineup around the beginning of the season, but worried about making a full recovery.

'When it happened, it was devastating,' recalled Walior. 'But it really ended up being a blessing in disguise.'

'It was Sam's first real injury,' said Bowers. 'We weren't sure how she would react. But she got ready for the season quickly and I'm proud of the way she came back.'

During her time rehabbing, Walior focused on technique and adding difficulty to her routines. The six-week recovery time forced her to work slowly and deliberately, giving her more time to work to perfect details and form.

After her injury, Walior says she feels better than ever and is excited by her team's progress this season. The Huskies have racked up eight wins in their last six meets, beating eight of the 11 teams they've faced in that stretch, including Pac-10 foes California, Arizona and Oregon State. The win against the Beavers on Feb. 21 was the first in six years and snapped a 12-meet losing streak against OSU.

'Beating Oregon State at home was the best moment since I've been here,' she exclaimed. 'It's really nice to finally be reaping the benefits of all our hard work this year. We work so hard in the gym every day.'

For Walior and the gymnastics team, there is still much work to be done. The Huskies have one more home meet, against Denver on March 15, and then it's off to Stanford for the Pac-10 Championship on March 21. Last year, Washington finished sixth and had to count two falls. The 2009 edition of the GymDawgs hopes to build on their early-season victories and hard-won team confidence to finish in the top-four in the conference.

Bowers is confident Walior will continue to help the team achieve its goals.

'Sam is a true competitor,' said Bowers. 'The thing I love about her is that she loves to compete. She steps up when she knows we need her. She wants to win and she really shines when the pressure is on. That attitude has really helped our program.'

Walior wants to see her team make Nationals before she graduates and is heartened by the progress her team has made so far.

'This season, we don't have to see an improvement in our score to know we're getting better,' said Walior. 'The score is kind of out of our control anyway. What's important is that at the end of the year, everyone knows that they did what they could to make it happen. The work that we're putting in now will really show next year.'

'And after beating Oregon State... Well, at least now we know we're getting our butts kicked [in practice] for a good cause,' Walior laughed.

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