Gymnastics prepares to grind for upcoming season
Southeast Missouri State’s gymnastic team is starting to practice for the upcoming season headed by Senior Alexis Brawner and Senior McKenna Stanley.
Head coach Kristi Ewasko is excited about this upcoming season. Ewasko’s vision for this year’s team is to continue to improve from what the team has done in the past.
“We have to live up to our ability, which we have not done in the past few years. We have some amazing talent on this year’s team and the goal is to put that talent in play to have a great year,” Ewasko said.
The basement of Parker Hall is where the grind starts for gymnastics at Southeast. Ewasko believes that it’s early on now, the athletes are stepping up and it will be interesting to see who comes around during competition.
“Brawner is our returning NCAA regional qualifier, she will be looking to compete strong all-around in all four events. We have some strong anchors and we will see how the freshman will step up and see how they develop.
Overall, I would say that our events will be held strong with about four to five athletes that really step up their game,” Ewasko said.
I asked coach Ewasko about expectations this season. “The No.1 expectation of this year’s team is to raise our scoring and the best way to do that is for them to buy into the program and into the plan through preseason, but if you want to get to regionals or even challenge for a USAG national championship we have to get scores. The only way to do that is to be better on the competition floor,” Ewasko said.
Southeast struggled last year on the road and posted a circle in the win category away from home. Southeast was 0-7 away and 4-1 at home.
“Putting them in those challenging and uncomfortable situations at practices, even though we walk away after a loss, it’s a team effort and one thing that is interesting about gymnastics is that we are not ranked based on a win-loss record we are ranked based on our scores. That is a huge important piece for us this season improving our scores. We do have some really challenging away meets this year starting the season at the University of Kentucky,” Ewasko said.
Like other competitive sports, on any given night one team may outperform the other while competing, giving them a good chance of winning.
“It is good to have the option to compete with top programs. We have the capabilities to go into a SEC program like Kentucky and possibly pull an upset, so we have to stay focused on pushing those challenges during preseason,” Ewasko said.
Southeast recruits about two years out for student athletes.
“The plan the past two years was to really amplify our talent in the athletes who have already competed in challenging routines in competition already, which brings them in with more experience in those higher-level competitions as well as higher- level skills. Our freshmen should really step in and be really good this year because we amplified what our expectations of them were before committing them,” Ewasko said.
The preseason gives Ewasko and the coaching staff time to fill the lineup to see who’s coming around in practice, zone in and fine tune those athletes for specific skills and routines. They evaluate what skills are hitting and what skills are causing deductions.
“The balance of academics and athletics starts in recruiting. We make sure that they are committed to academics whether on scholarship or a walk-on and make sure some type of academic scholarship is involved in recruiting to start them off strong. Our staff advise them of tutoring that’s available and other resources on campus to help them be a better student athlete if needed. One of our team goals is to be ranked in the top three nationally for academics,” Ewasko said.
Brawner has great expectations for this year’s team because she knows the freshmen will play a big part of how the team performs.
“Last year we had low numbers due to injuries. I expect them not to be like freshmen, the team made it a point to welcome them aboard but emphasized what was expected of them and they came in ready. I’m impressed and we have a really good team dynamic, so the focus needs to be on working together,” Brawner said.
Brawner has made it to the regionals for the last couple years but she does not feel pressured by those facts.
“I take it day by day, one meet at a time because I just want to do my job. The results will show in how I perform on floor,” Brawner said.
Stanley’s expectations for the team are high.
“I have confidence in what I’ve done in the gym will help to prepare me and set me up for what I need to be doing on the floor,” Stanley said.
Brawner’s favorite events are the vault and the floor, while Stanley’s favorite event is the bars. They both like being student- athletes, although it can be a lot to handle sometimes. The experiences that they’ve had make them grateful for the positions they’re in.
“It’s a privilege being a student-athlete and I don’t take it for granted,” Stanley said.
Brawner admires Simone Biles and Stanley likes Kerri Strug as their favorite athletes.
“I don’t think people understand how hard we work year around to get to the point of competition season, it means a lot to have support in the gym while we are competing. Having a big crowd could be the difference between winning and losing sometimes,” Brawner said.
Both agree that the expectations show be high.
“A big crowd with lots of noise is the energy that we feed off while competing, it helps us to get everyone involved,” Stanley said.