Taylor Westrick performs her beam routine at the MIC Championships on March 24. Westrick will be Southeast's first NCAA Nationals competitor in its Division I history on Friday.
4/17/2012 4:55:00 PM
Focused Westrick Makes History for Redhawk Gymnastics
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. –
When watching gymnasts compete at the highest level, it is easy to be drawn to the individual talent isolated on their event rather than the long hours of practice and hard work that goes into perfecting their routines.
Southeast Missouri junior Taylor Westrick
is no exception to that. Westrick has mastered a balance beam routine that is taking her to a place no Redhawk gymnast has gone – the NCAA Division I Gymnastics Championships.
On Friday, Westrick will become the first Southeast gymnast to compete at the national meet since the program moved up to Division I in 1992. This year's event will be held in Duluth, Ga.
After a strong regular season, the Waterford, Wis., native advanced on the strength of a career-best 9.900 beam score that tied for first-place at the NCAA Champaign Regional on Apr. 7.
Westrick's mentality appears to suit her for this level of competition. Behind the immensely-skilled gymnast going through her everyday beam routine is an unassuming college student. One who is inwardly focused and self-motivated in every aspect of her life, which shows in the gym and in the classroom where she carries a perfect 4.0 grade point average as a health management major.
“It's a little second nature, but I do think about the hard work it takes in the classroom,” Westrick said. “Last week, I had three tests in three days and it was stressful. When I get in the gym, I separate it from my mind.”
The impact of Westrick's individual accolades on the rest of the Redhawks are profound. Her recent individual practices have filled with teammates wishing her well. Not so much for the fact that she is representing Southeast at nationals, but because her quiet work ethic and attention to detail are so respected by her peers.
“I see a lot more motivation from the rest of the team based on what Taylor has done this year,” said Southeast head coach Kristi Ewasko
. “Taylor is a quiet leader who leads by example. I think the athletes on the team who are more verbal are realizing they need to back it up the way Taylor does.”
While her teammates have latched onto her success, Westrick is quick to point out how she's benefited from the support structure her coaches and family have provided.
“I have had so much support during my time here at Southeast,” Westrick said. “Especially from my beam coaches, beginning with Ashley Lawson when I was a freshman to Jessica Kinder-Vasquez this year. The staff knew I had a national level routine and they helped me get there. I can't thank them enough for that.
“My teammates also pushed me and challenged me to do more than what I was doing. My sister came to every single home meet cheering me on. All of that support helps.”
Westrick started the season slow, scoring below a 9.700 in seven of her first eight routines. That all changed when she posted a 9.800 on beam at the Perfect 10 Challenge on Feb. 10. After that, Westrick scored at least 9.800 on beam in each of her next nine meets.
Westrick went on to successfully defend her balance beam title at the Midwest Independent Conference Championships on Mar. 24, establishing a new career-high 9.900 on beam and punching her ticket to regionals for the second year in a row.
“Last year, I was nervous when I went to the regional meet for the first time,” said Westrick. “It was a much bigger meet than I was used to, even compared to our conference meet. This year, I knew what to expect and I was better prepared to handle it this time around.”
Drawing on that postseason experience from a year ago, Westrick repeated that 9.900 score two weeks later in Champaign, Ill. The mark placed her in a four-way tie for first on beam and sent her to nationals.
“I was so excited to be on that podium,” said Westrick. “I found out that I made it to nationals right before I got on the stand. I was so excited and just tried to smile for the cameras.”
Since the NCAA Regionals, Westrick has had two weeks to prepare for her trip south this weekend. She has been using that time to add some new things to her routine, which she hopes will keep her at the top of the individual standings.
Westrick will get the opportunity to compete on college gymnastics biggest stage. While it is unchartered territory for the Southeast program, it is a challenge that Westrick embraces as she takes her place alongside the elite gymnasts in the country.
“I'm honored to be going to nationals,” said Westrick. “It's a special feeling. I am thankful for this experience. I'm trying to keep my emotions the same as every other meet so I don't change how I do my gymnastics.”