Experiencing gymnastics for the first time

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It was a brisk February night but it was hot and exciting inside the Smith Fieldhouse. The atmosphere was electric as music pounded and bright lights shone on the center of the floor.

Becca Mattson sat in the bleachers on the west side of the building, sending an occasional text to make plans for the rest of the night, but focusing mostly on the flips, twists and turns of the gymnasts who were so close she could see every grimace, smile and stare they gave.

Mattson, a junior from Cypress, Calif., majoring in wildlife and wildlands conservation, experienced her first gymnastics meet as BYU lost to No. 20 Denver 193.750-191.850 on Feb. 10.

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Jennifer Lezeu performs on the floor for the Cougars during Saturday's meet in the Smith Fieldhouse.
Before going to the meet, Mattson was not sure what it would be like to actually be there watching gymnasts do their thing.

“I’ve seen the movie ‘Stick It’ so that is my expectation,” Mattson said just before the meet began. “And I know I’ll see some cool flips.”

She has always been fascinated by the idea of gymnastics, admitting somewhat sheepishly she has always secretly wanted to be a gymnast. Even though the first meet she attended turned out to be a loss for BYU, she was still impressed.

For the gymnasts, this night was definitely not a new experience for them. It is a sport one has to start when young. Senior gymnast Mickell Merrell said she started doing gymnastics when she was only three. This makes her senior year all the more special because it is the last opportunity she has to show her friends and family how much she appreciates the support given to her throughout her life. Because gymnasts start training so early, it becomes a family affair.

“My parents sacrificed and did so much,” senior Krysten Koval said.

After Koval’s 9.725 performance on beam, Mattson was in awe.

Head coach Brad Cattermole said Koval is looking for a perfect 10 on beam this season, especially because it is her last year, he said she thinks she owns the beam. Koval earned a career best score of 9.950 on beam earlier this season and is easily one of BYU’s strongest performers in the event.

“Even I could tell!” said Mattson excitedly. “[Koval] looked so confident.”

Mattson’s favorite part of the night was BYU’s final rotation: floor. The music of floor routines energized not only the gymnasts but the crowd as well. She described the actual routines as “gymnastic dancing,” since they combine elements of dance with plenty of tumbling.

“I love how all their teammates on the sidelines do some of the cool dancing moves with them too,” Mattson said.

While gymnasts are alone when actually competing, their teammates play a large role in how well they do. They do whatever they can to support each other, and sometimes that means acting out parts of a routine along with whoever is competing. Senior Jennifer Lezeu said her teammates help keep her going throughout meets. The rest of the team is always watching and waiting, whether to congratulate someone on a great performance or to keep them positive if things did not go well.

In regards to things not going well, Koval has learned to not dwell on things she cannot control, like a teammate falling.

“I have to focus on myself,” Koval said. “I can’t fix their score and not let anything else affect me.”

Lezeu agreed, saying “you just can’t think about the mistakes” and should move on instead.

Mattson struggled when trying to explain how she felt when gymnasts fell, describing it simply as painful and sad. Moriah Martin of Denver took perhaps the hardest fall of the night while competing on beam. She fell off the beam and hit her head on it while falling to the mats. Fortunately, she got back on, to much applause from the crowd, and finished her routine.

“When [Martin] hit her head, the whole audience was just, like, ‘Oooh’,” Mattson said.

Despite BYU’s tough loss, Cattermole was adamant his team can and will do better as the season continues.

“It’s just one meet, that’s all it is,” Cattermole said. “Every once in a while you have a bad week. We’ve got to do better.”

Nevertheless, Mattson said she would definitely go back and watch the Cougars compete again. She also hopes everyone else starts going as well.

“I think everyone has wanted to do flips and be a gymnast in their life,” Mattson said. “It appeals to people’s inner daredevil.”

BYU’s next meet is away against the University of Arizona on Friday. The Cougars then return home to take on Southern Utah and Utah State on Feb. 25.

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