By Charlie Newton
For many years, athletes put in long hours practicing what they love to do, perfecting their skills and making sacrifices to better themselves and their teammates. For four of the Arizona Gymcats, all those years of hard work will culminate in their final season in 2014.
They will look to lead the Gymcats back to nationals for the first time since 2002.
“It’s always been a very close team, but these four seniors have certainly taken on the mantle of leadership,” said Head Coach Bill Ryden. “It’s four strong personalities and that certainly bodes well for us.”
The four seniors are in their fourth year together at Arizona and have been through triumphs and hardships. They have used their experiences to become close friends and teammates in and out of the gym.
“With us four seniors being together, we are really close and we are all family,” said Williams. “It’s really nice just having the team that we have and being able to lead such talented girls.”
Expectations are high among the team and Coach Ryden echoes that opinion.
“All of the stuff I expect from the team, what it takes to be a good team member, what it takes to be a good team player, from all sides the seniors take a majority of that responsibility,” said Ryden. “It has never been their responsibility to do that before, but now it’s up to them and I can tell you point-blank they are doing a fantastic job.”
Stakem, Williams, Donaldson and Sangston are taking the challenge head-on with pride and positivity
“It’s definitely a big change,” said Stakem. “There’s a lot more responsibility being a senior. You have to look out for the team and it’s a great responsibility and I think the four of us are doing a good job.”
Donaldson sees the opportunity as a way to help the team not only for this season, but also in the future.
“I think that being a leader and being part of this team has just brought our team closer together,” said Donaldson. “I also think my role has gotten stronger as the freshmen look up to us more and they start to trust us and take what we have to say to heart.”
Each senior has her own personal goals she would like to achieve, but one theme remains resolute — competing at nationals.
“I think I am more of an example this year being in a leadership role,” said Sangston. “I want to help try and keep the team as united as possible throughout this year. And I want to make sure our goals stay team goals.”
Getting to nationals is definitely within reach and the start of the journey to get there is right around the corner.
“Our team is definitely more driven to make it to nationals this year because we understand how much talent we have and how much potential there is,” said Donaldson. “As the season is approaching we are getting more and more motivated to reach that potential.”
The seniors realize this is their last year to make a mark on Arizona Gymnastics history and are inspired by the younger gymnasts.
“It’s really nice having a leadership role in the gym and having people look up to you,” said Williams. “It motivates me to work even harder in the gym.”
The Wildcats will begin the season on Saturday, Jan. 11 in Chicago, Ill. followed by a meet at Stanford against BYU, Stanford, and Sacramento State on Sunday, Jan. 19. Their first home meet of the season will be on Jan. 25 against No. 3 Oklahoma.