The BYU women's gymnastics team posted a season-high 195.525 against Utah State on March 5th. (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah – In her current radio hit Kelly Clarkson sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The lyrics are synonymous with BYU women’s gymnastics head coach Brad Cattermole’s feelings about the season his team just finished. In a season that was plagued with injuries from the outset the team came together as individuals stepped into the line-up and stepped up to contribute to the team’s purpose.
“Athletics has a lot of emotion,” Cattermole said. “Often we would like to believe the athletes are machines and they just do what they have to do. In reality, they don’t and there is emotion that comes when things don’t go our way. Those injuries were hard to come back from in the beginning but we were able to rally together this season. While it was hard, we will be much better next year because of it.”
The injuries that Cattermole mentions began in preseason when Haylee Rollins, who was expected to be a key contributor, was diagnosed with a foot problem that sidelined her for the remainder of the season. While the loss of Rollins would cause a significant loss, the team prepared and found gymnasts to fill the holes in the lineup. Still early in the season they would lose Megan Bain, a three-event rising star, and senior Holland Matheson to season-ending injuries.
BYU scored a season team-high 195.525 late in the season on the road against Utah State, their highest score since a 195.800 against University of Utah in 2011. Despite the aforementioned setbacks and finishing the year with a 5-10 record, the Cougars were able to experience success with wins over Southern Utah, Utah State and Southeast Missouri State.
The team’s five seniors, Natalie Eyre Pickard, Krysten Koval, Jennifer Lezeu, Holland Matheson and Mickell Merrell, will be missed in and out of the gym. Eyre, a two-year captain, led the Cougars with season-highs of 9.875 in vault, uneven bars and balance beam. Texas native, Koval, gave BYU their highest score of the year with a 9.950 on the balance beam. Jennifer Lezeu competed on all-around for the Cougars and received a 9.850 at least once on uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Merrell competed in every meet on vault and floor exercise, finishing the year strong with two consecutive meets scoring a season-high 9.825 on floor exercise. Matheson competed in BYU’s first meet of the year before her injury.
The Cougars were just one spot shy of making NCAA Regionals as each year 36 teams compete in six different regional locations with the top two teams from each region advancing to the NCAA Championships. BYU finished 37th with a regional qualifying score of 194.685.
Three BYU gymnasts, Raquel Willman (all-around), Koval (floor exercise) and Eyre (vault and balance beam,) were, however, invited to represent the school individually at the regional meet in Salt Lake City. Willman competed throughout the year on each of the four apparatuses for the Cougars and provided solid scores throughout the year on each. While Willman would have competed on each event even without the team’s injuries, she likely would not have had the opportunity to lead in the way she did.
“Raquel really had to step up and carry this team this season,” Cattermole said. “She was able to rise to that challenge.”
Prior to her injury, Bain recorded the Cougar’s highest score on vault for the year with a 9.900 against Southern Utah University. Regional-qualifier Pickard recorded a season-high 9.875 three times later in the year. Following the loss of Bain, Koval, who the coaching staff thought would never be able to vault again due to past injuries, fought through pain to return to vault for BYU. With the exception of her first vault, Koval scored a 9.600 or higher on the event in every meet. All-around competitor Willman came up huge for the Cougars on vault, scoring a 9.8 or higher five times during the season.
BYU’s highest score as a team on vault came against SUU and USU where the Cougars combined for a 49.175 behind one of Pickard’s 9.875 and 9.850s from both Willman and junior Sarah Yandow.
Pickard proved to be the model of consistency on uneven bars, leading BYU on the event as she scored 9.750 or higher in every meet of the year. Sophomore KayCee Gassaway tied senior Pickard for a team-high 9.875 on uneven bars. Gassaway, who was recovering from an injury of her own at the beginning of the season, was able to build strength and finished the season with back-to-back scores of 9.825 and 9.875.
Five scores of 9.775 or higher added up to give the Cougars a season high 94.100 on uneven bars against Texas Woman’s University.
Koval gave BYU their highest score of the year on any event with a 9.950 on balance beam against Southern Utah. Koval scored a 9.9 or higher three times. In the same meet that Koval scored a 9.950, Bain scored a 9.9. Pickard struggled early in the season on the beam but the senior was able to score 9.825 or higher in six consecutive meets to close the year.
The beam lineup, led by Willman with a 9.875 and Lezeu with a 9.850, recorded their highest score of 49.050 against Utah State. Freshman Margaurite Lindstrom added a 9.725 to close out the Cougars top five scores.
After never competing on floor exercise for the Cougars in 2011, Koval ended up being the BYU leader on the event in 2012 with a career-high 9.900. Merrell provided much-needed consistency on the event, scoring a 9.700 or higher in each of the meets with the exception of two meets early in the season. Lezeu and Willman, the team’s two all-around competitors, also turned in high-scores at different occasions throughout the season.
Two scores of 9.850 from Koval and Lezeu led the Cougars to a season-high 48.925 against Utah State on floor exercise. Merrell also made a valuable contribution with a 9.800 on the event.
Cattermole feels that the team has a terrific recruiting class coming in next season. With Bain and Rollins coming back from injury and a newfound leader in Willman, he feels the team will be stronger as a result of the adversity they have faced this season.
“We’ll very young but we’ll be very talented,” said Cattermole. “It will be very competitive to get in the line-up on any given event next season and that’s fun for a coach. We’re moving in the right direction and I’m optimistic for the future.”