Monday, May 5, 2014

Western Nationals

We've been to a lot of gymnastics meets.  But from the minute we stepped into the arena, this one just felt different.  Something about competing with some of the nation's top talent made it feel like more than just any other meet, I guess.

USA gymnastics divides the country into eight regions.  A level 9 gymnast qualifies for her regional meet at the state competition.  It is at regionals that she qualifies for westerns.  Four age groups are determined on a national level and the top 12 from each age group advance to the western national competition.   That means 48 level nines from each region come together to comprise the competitive field.  Westerns includes regions 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Most of Alyssa's teammates arrived by air, but since Westerns was held in Boise, ID this year, it was a doable road trip.  A seven hour drive is a piece of cake for Jon's inner trucker.  We had fun decorating the car for the occasion:

Before getting to gymnastics, we paid a visit to Boise State to check out the blue turf.  This was the highlight of Caleb's trip.

Cougar Caleb fighting the bronco:

That afternoon we went to Century Link Arena, the meet venue, for the region 2 workout session. Look at these cute and amazingly talented girls scoping out their competition:

These girls make up a very cohesive team.  They understand one another on a level that is difficult to explain.  One team member, Maison, was injured at the regional meet and though she qualified for westerns, was unable to compete due to the injury.  The girls carried her picture around all weekend in honor of her.  Here they are putting her in the middle of the team picture:

Left to right: Ali, Gracie, Alyssa, (Maison), Sam and Kayla

A fun action shot from the workout session:

The muscle definition in her arms amazes me:

The workout ended with some silly hand-clapping region 2 cheers.

After getting cleaned up, the girls met their coaches for dinner at P.F. Changs.  We parents went to dinner too but sat on the other side of the restaurant so as to give our girls their space.  The owner of our gym generously picking up the bill for all of us!

While at dinner, the coaches presented the girls with beautiful Pandora charm bracelets.  Wow!  Gracie and Sam are both second year level 9's and were given bracelets last year so they got this year's charm to add to their bracelets.  Each girl got the letter "A" for Auburn (though it's so convenient that it's also Alyssa's initial) and a clover in the color of the Idaho state gem, coinciding with the location of this year's meet.  What an amazing gift to celebrate the achievement of qualifying for western nationals.

They actually forgot to bring Maison's photo to the restaurant, so they did this pose which is evidently a Maison pose?  Her absence was felt every minute.

At westerns, each session is comprised of only one age group.  All of the AGC girls were in different age groups so they competed in five different sessions.  Gracie competed first thing in the morning and then it was Alyssa's turn.

Here's the videographer ready to document Alyssa's skills:

All gymnasts wear the same attire at westerns.  Something about it adds to the big-time feel of this meet.  The regions are distinguished by the accent color and sequin numbers on their leos.

They also have competition numbers pinned on their backs.  That never happens at any other meet.

Each region is divided in half, flight A and flight B.  One half competes on one set of equipment while the other half warms up on another set.  Here are the flight A region 2 girls from Alyssa's session:

Left to right: Elizabeth (OR), Hannah (OR), Jordan (WA), Alyssa (WA) and CeCe (HI)

It wasn't her very best meet, but I think Alyssa handled the pressure of the competition beautifully.  It's hard to express how meaningful it was to watch her compete at this level.

Love this focused look as she prepares to compete bars:

Natalie got to be a runner which she thought was a blast.  She worked bars during Alyssa's session and floor during Ali's session.  She had so much fun running scores between the judges.

A few of Alyssa's supporters:

More fun action shots showing her front layout front layout combination:

And I thought this next shot was so fun with the official westerns sign in the background:

She made a couple of great saves on beam.  It's surprising she didn't come off, but she fought for it.  Here's her whole meet in one short video:

Only the top ten of the 48 girls place and Lys didn't come close to placing on anything, but each gymnast was called up and presented a certificate to celebrate the achievement of qualifying to compete at the national level.  Valeri Liukin presented the certificates.  (That's Nastia's dad and coach of multiple olympians.)

Alyssa was blessed to have many family members come to watch her compete.  They each made long drives to support her.  Here she is with Grandma and Grandpa Hatch and Maureen, but my parents also made the trip.

Once she was done competing, she had fun supporting Ali, Sam and Kayla in their meets.  The girls all did great!  Kayla ended up third in her age group which is really exceptional.

The region 2 girls exchanged little good luck gifts and all of Lys' teammates gave her a little something too.  She came away with so many fun things.

Jon designed the cutest shirts that we gave to the girls.  When our level 10's prepared for nationals the next week, we presented them with shirts as well.  

Team AGC--level 9 and 10 national qualifiers
Back row: Gracie, Shilese, Kayla, Alexis, Kendal, Ali and Haley
Front row: Maison, Sam and Alyssa

The back says this:  "My friends know me well...but my teammates have seen me with no make up, sweaty, bloody, chalky and on the verge of puking yet they never let me down or leave me side."

It really is a special experience belonging to a team.  It's heartwarming to see the way they love and support one another.  Competing at nationals together just deepened their bond.

It was simply a wonderful experience from start to finish.

Congrats on a great season, Lys!