Over the last quarter century, the BYU Women’s Gymnastics team has been to the national championships ten times and has only missed the regional championships twice.
This winning mentality and championship-like pedigree is unheard of and unmatched with the other 80 schools that compete in NCAA gymnastics. The team has had great gymnasts come and go but has had one mainstay in Head Coach Brad Cattermore, who has coached the entire 25 years.
“There’s 80 some-odd schools with gymnastics programs, and I think there’s only 20 and a couple that have made nationals even once,” Cattermore said. “We’re proud of that. It’s not an easy road, and it’s hard to get there.”
Despite its history of elite gymnastics teams, last season marked just the second time BYU failed to reach the regional championships, even though three of the gymnasts qualified as individuals. The team is young, but talented, and feels it has a shot this season.
“This team is probably more motivated than many that we’ve had,” Cattermore said. “This team hasn’t been to nationals in a while, and there are several of the girls in leadership roles that really want to get there and are willing to do what it takes. If you go there on desire, we’re getting there.”
The team saw several long-time members of the team graduate this season and only has one returning senior this year, Sarah Yandow Wensel, who competes in the vault, the floor and the bars. Some of the gymnasts joining Wensel are juniors Haylee Rollins and Raquel Willman and sophomore Megan Bain — whose promising season last year was cut short by an injury. The team also welcomes in several new freshmen.
“We have a whole new team with a lot of freshmen, and we don’t really know what to expect,” Rollins said. “We have a lot of high hopes, so we’re just going to do our best.”
One thing that new freshmen have to become accustomed to is competing as a team on the college level rather than as individuals, which, for the most part, has been their experience their entire lives. There are no individual awards; rather, how one person performs will affect the performance of the rest of the team in that particular meet, good or bad.
“When (the freshmen) get to college, what means anything, is the team,” Cattermore said. “The ones who have been here for a while understand that. Nobody’s going to ask you what you scored on the beam, they’re going to ask if you won. It becomes a whole team process that they’ve never really had in the past. Most of them love that. Learning to compete as a team, and being okay with someone outscoring you because she’s on your team.”
The Cougars face off against two teams ranked in the top five this coming season. They compete against No. 4 Oklahoma in a quad meet in Oklahoma City on Feb. 15, and then face their rivals, the Utah Utes, who come into the season ranked fifth, in a tri-team meet in Provo. The elite opponents offer nothing but motivation to excel both as individuals and as a team for each of the Cougars.
“If anything for me, it’s motivation,” Bain said. “The judges are giving out some big scores, so we can score big that night. That’s the way we look forward to it in that way.”
Unlike other sports, such as football or basketball, there is no defense in gymnastics, so the team is only concerned about what they do and not about other teams’ strengths or weaknesses.
“Unless we’re going to tackle a kid in the middle of their floor routine, there’s nothing we can do,” Cattermore said. “They do the best they can, and we do the best we can. All we can control is what we do. End of story.”
The team started its season off with a strong performance in its first match of the season in Cancun, Mexico, on Jan. 4. The Cougars competed against No. 10 Michigan and No. 9 Oregon State, finishing in second place, about two points behind the Wolverines. Many of the newcomers to the team performed well on all four rotations, showing the promising future the team has. Additionally, the veterans like Bain and Wensel led the way for the rest of the team on both the floor rotations and the beam. They will return to the Smith Fieldhouse to compete against Utah State on Jan. 12.
“I feel so much passion and love for my sport,” Bain said. “I’m really excited for the season. It’s going to be really good for me and for our team. We have a really young team, but this year could be really good for us if we just hit our stuff the way we do in the gym.”