To borrow a refrain from a toddler fan seated in the stands at the Seawolf Gymnastics season opener on Thursday evening, “WOW!”
If you weren’t able to make it to the Thursday and Saturday meets that showcased UAA’s Div. I athletes as they took on Winona State University (Div. II) in the new Alaska Airlines Center, you missed some jaw-dropping athleticism. The Seawolves dominated on their home turf, earning a team total of 191.55 on Thursday and 192.25 on Saturday. If you don’t yet speak gymnastics scores, those two mean the athletes were nailing their routines in their shiny, new digs.
Hot tip: Facilities aren’t the only things that have been upgraded.
“We’ve been able to upgrade our routines a lot,” said team co-captain Morgan Cook, a senior in her fourth and final season with the Seawolves. “This facility gives us a totally new work ethic. You can train so much. Even when you’re injured, you have so many options.”
Simone Penker, a junior who also competed this summer in the World Gymnastics Championships for her native Austria, added, “When the season goes on, we’ll do better and better. We all have new skills that we want to get in. Not all of them are already in our routines, but they will be by the end of the season. That’s going to be really exciting.”
Along with teammate M’rcy Matsunami, Penker and Cook were the top three all-around scorers on both Thursday and Saturday. They’re quick to tell you that so much of their hard work—as gymnasts and as students—is spurred by knowing their team is counting on them.
A culture of support
“It’s really exciting for me to be on a team now,” said Penker. “At home I always competed as an individual. Now I know my team is practicing as much and more than I do.”
The support in the gym is audible. With the one-at-a-time format of most gymnastics meets, there’s a healthy chorus of cheering teammates on the sidelines during each event.
“If you’re cheering, then the crowd knows they can cheer,” said Cook. “You want the crowd to get involved.”
But beyond their practice and meet schedule, these athletes also do what they can to support each other in the classroom. Each semester, they set a team goal for their cumulative GPA, usually on the high end of achievable.
“That’s what motivates me,” said Cook. “I know that my teammates are studying. And I do want to continue my education down the road.” She’ll be graduating in May with a degree in psychology and has her sights set on master’s programs in human resource management. Penker is sifting through options in the medical field, not yet sure if she wants to pursue osteopathic medicine or pursue complementary medicine. Right now, her first choice would be to earn a scholarship and stay in the States. Going home isn’t such a bad option, though, she confessed, since med school in Germany or Austria would be free.
Between now and the future still looms an important season for both student-athletes. They’ve started things off with a bang with their first home stand. All is not lost if you missed this go-round, though. You still have three more chances to catch them at home in the AAC. Mark your calendars for Feb. 27, March 1 and March 21. New fans can simply follow the lead of the cheering athletes and superfans. If other words fail you, a nicely timed “Wow” will suffice.
Written by Jamie Gonzales, UAA Office of University Advancement