BYU head coach Guard Young celebrates with a gymnast. (Photo by BYU Photo)
Gymnastics coaching and support staff work tirelessly behind the scenes at NCAA regionals
SEATTLE — The talent and hard work of BYU gymnasts made a trip to the NCAA Seattle Regional this season possible, but lesser known contributions by equally hard-working people behind the scenes played a large role in making the trip a success.
The Cougars recently returned from finishing fifth at regionals with a 195.025, the highest regional score in 12 years. The four-day trip to the Emerald City also included local sightseeing and fun restaurants.
Over the past two years, the coaching staff has developed its own system of how to best travel, assistant coach Brogan Evanson said.
Before the team even leaves Provo, women's equipment manager Nancy Jensen oversees the washing and packing of leotards and other team gear in suitcases. All gymnasts must match to be in compliance, down to sports bras and leotards. If a team is not uniform, a three-tenth deduction is given to its overall score in competition. Additionally, the dye in leotards can bleed and rhinestones fall off if not properly cared for. The athletic laundromat keeps the sensitive and expensive fabric in good condition.
One of the unique support areas of BYU athletics is its own travel agency. Susan Walters is one of two travel agents, and she plans the gymnastics team’s flights, hotels and rental cars.
Assistant coach Natalie Broekman plans the trip itinerary and food. Because regional competition includes an official practice the day before the meet, there is extra time for the Cougars to tour the city. They explored downtown Seattle on an underground historical tour of the city and visited the Great Gum Wall of Seattle, Pike Place Market and Snoqualmie Falls.
It is difficult to plan to arrange six restaurant meals for 24 or 25 people, particularly over the weekend in a coastal city, so Brokeman extensively researches ahead of time and asks for suggestions within the athletic department.
“She’ll book the restaurants and preorder food so it’s hot and ready,” Evanson said. “If it’s not pre-ordering food, she’ll book the room or time.”
Broekman also works with BYU dietician and sports nutritionist Rachel Higginson to provide the gymnasts with healthy menu options from specific restaurants while on the road.
Evanson added that the coaching staff has learned the gymnasts need rest, but also “need to be alert and stimulated.”
“I’ll sometimes put together aerobics or dance routines to try to make it more of a girly thing most of them look forward to,” Evanson said.
Head coach Guard Young attends an extra administrative meeting, where the NCAA seeks feedback on potential rule changes from smaller groups of coaches. This input prepares the NCAA for the coaches’ conference later in the year.
Phillip Hartog, the head athletic trainer for gymnastics, works to make both practices and competition on the road as normal as possible so the Cougars can perform at the highest level.
In addition to his personal suitcase, he checked two medical bags on the flight to make sure the team had all the tape and supplies necessary for treatments, pre-treatments and post-treatments. At visiting arenas, Hartog ensures amenities such as ice packs, cold tubs, hot tubs and hot packs are available to the gymnasts.
“I take care of the bumps and bruises and keep them together and healthy so they can do what they do every day at their best,” Hartog said. “I encourage and support the gymnasts, and help the coaches.”
Hartog credited a lack of major medical incidents this year to the gymnasts “putting in the effort and sacrifice to take care of their bodies” and is grateful for the quality facilities and resources at BYU.
“We’re very lucky to have a great support staff — doctors and administrators that support us and help us continue to take care of our athletes to be at their top performing abilities,” Hartog said.
Liz Darger, BYU’s Associated Athletic Director and Senior Woman Administrator, is another member of the gymnastics team’s support staff. She traveled to Seattle and believes being on the road with the team is the quickest way to get to know the athletes.
“It’s not just showing up at a game, practice or meet,” Darger said. “You’re sitting down with them at meals and you’re chatting with them. You’re being more yourself.”
She also attends administrative meetings where event details are discussed. Each of the six NCAA regional meets must follow regulations and are directed by an NCAA gymnastics committee representative.
“Anytime you watch our teams compete at the NCAA level, it’s pretty special,” Darger said. “There are a lot of teams that don’t get that opportunity, and we certainly don’t take it for granted.”
Click here to read the team’s recap at regionals.
Click here to read the trip blog “Cougars in Seattle: Behind the Scenes.”