Arizona gymnastics assistant coach Randi Acosta has been involved with Arizona gymnastics for most of her life.
As a young girl, she used to come watch gymnasts like Stacy Fowlkes, Kristi Gunning, and Gabby Zermoglio and dream of one day joining the team. Acosta (then Liljenquist) would soon live out her dream and switch from spectator to performer.
Her successful four-year career started in 1999. In her time as a collegiate gymnast, Acosta won two All- American awards (2000, 2002) and was the Pac-10 floor champion in 2002.
It didn’t take long for Acosta to come back to the U of A. After she graduated in 2002, Acosta stayed active with the sport, but by 2009, current head coach Bill Ryden hired Acosta on to be an assistant coach.
“Ever since my experience as a GymCat, I have always been eager to make it back so that I could help train the team,” said Acosta.
Ryden recognized how valuable Acosta could be in an assistant coaching position, after serving as her head coach for four years.
“She was the fit,” Ryden said. “In my opinion, she is one of the best choreographers in the country. I really like the look that her choreography gives to our team, and how we are represented.
Acosta’s choreography expertise has proven very beneficial for the GymCats.
“Randi is an exceptional dancer and choreographer,” Ryden said. “A lot of times, even though it doesn’t show up on the scoring column, how you dance and choreograph your routines is what creates the ‘look’ of your program. When Randi was an athlete in our program, she set herself apart with her own floor routines. She had this look that other gymnasts couldn’t match.”
Because she was such a decorated athlete, Acosta has brought new perspective to the team and coaching staff. Not only does her recent experience help her empathize with the gymnasts, but her ample success has given her the knowledge of what is needed to be an Arizona GymCat.
“Having been an Arizona GymCat has given me a better understanding on every level of what these girls are going through,” Acosta said. “I think it helps as a coach to know what they are feeling in certain situations and how to help guide them so that they are always giving their best effort.”
Even though her collegiate gymnast career ended just over a decade ago, Acosta recognizes that the sport is changing every year.
“Floor music and choreography has become a bigger role in college gymnastics,” Acosta said. “Every team is trying to put on the greatest show, not only for the audience, but for the judges as well.”
Acosta has been working with the athletes all summer and pre-season to try to create routines that complement their performance style.
“What's challenging about choreography is that each gymnast has a different style and personality,” Acosta said. “When the gymnast absolutely loves her routine and feels comfortable with the style of dance, it makes it so much more motivating and exciting to perform and it is also something that the judges take notice of.”
For the athletes, having Acosta as a coach and role model is helpful, but it is also a unique challenge.
“Not many people can move like Randi and it is definitely a challenge for the team to do what she wants,” Ryden said. “One of the first things that I noticed three years ago is that, all of a sudden, the athletes were very… tired.”
The difficulty of coach Acosta’s routines comes from a life-long understanding of the work ethic required to be a great gymnast and teammate.
“To be a successful gymnast, the girls need to learn to balance studies, eat right, practice and rest,” Acosta said. “What each individual gymnast does effects not just themselves, but the entire team as well. Success is how well you prepare yourself and the quality of effort that you put in day in and day out to be the very best at what you do.”
Acosta also understands that the hard work put in as a gymnast will pay off elsewhere.
“I try to get each girl to perform to their fullest so that I can live vicariously through them,” she said. “Being a successful gymnast will be their greatest life lesson, because it will teach them how to be successful for the rest of their lives.”