Meghan Hargens competed for UW-Stout, a Division III program, from 2007-2010. During that time, she was a 12-time NCGA All-American, a two time NACGC/W Division III West Region gymnast of the year and the 2010 NCGA uneven bars champion. During her junior and senior years, she qualified to NCAA regionals in the all around and hit all 102 of her routines. She became the first UW-Stout gymnast to score over 38 in the all around and still holds two of the top five program best scores on the uneven bars.
Note: Responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.
College Gym News: How did you make the decision to compete for UW-Stout, a DIII school, versus perhaps walking onto a DII or DI school or even not continuing with gymnastics at the collegiate level? Did you get other offers or opportunities?
Meghan Hargens: I constantly changed my mind during my senior year of high school and didn’t make a decision until April. In the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to stay close to home. I even considered going to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and end my gymnastics career. I had looked at a few DI schools, but they were all too far for me, and I knew I wouldn’t really compete. If I was going to continue gymnastics, I wanted to compete all around.
CGN: You competed at NCAA regionals your junior and senior years. What was that experience like coming from doing DIII gymnastics? What did you take from your experience junior year that might have helped you or your team the next season?
MH: Competing at NCAA regionals was such a thrill! My first two years of collegiate gymnastics were difficult for my coaches and me. I was very immature and just couldn’t get past having different coaches than what I was used to for the past 13 years. Once I got to junior year, however, I started to finally buy into Stout Gymnastics. I matured, learned how to control my nerves and became more confident in my gymnastics, which lead to not falling on any event at a meet junior and senior year.
My final year was incredible. Our team was so cohesive: We loved being around each other, and I think it showed in our gymnastics. Of course I would have loved to make nationals as a team and end the year with them, but having my career end at the University of Utah was so special. As a DIII gymnast competing with these amazing athletes, did I have my doubts? Yes. Did I feel like I belonged there? Honestly, not really. With the help of my teammates and coaches encouraging me, however, I put my doubts aside, took in every moment and was so honored to be there.
CGN: What is your opinion on the judging discrepancies between Division I and Division III gymnastics? What do you think could be done to help close that gap and even increase the parity?
MH: I would say the judging has improved in DIII. I feel like the girls are finally getting rewarded for doing the same skills they see at a DI meet. However, we can pretend like it doesn’t happen, but the college they have on their leotard makes a difference in scoring. I can think of multiple DIII routines that score a 9.600 and see virtually the same routine from a DI gymnast that receives a 9.850. Sure, some girls deserve higher scores, but make it consistent. It seems like some judges walk into a meet and think they aren’t allowed to flash anything lower than a 9.800, and then they walk into a J.O. or DIII meet and feel like they can’t flash above a 9.850.
In my opinion, the environment at a meet is a huge factor in scoring. In terms of fan base for DIII, we aren’t quite there yet, but I am hopeful. I think seeing more and more DIII gymnasts compete at NCAA regionals shows DI fans, coaches, judges and athletes that there are talented gymnasts in more than just one division, and they should be rewarded in their scores and recognized no matter which school they go to.
CGN: Some of the athletes that you coach at Classic Gymnastics have gone onto (or are going onto) compete in college. What is it like being on the other side of recruiting? What sort of lessons or tips do you tell them thanks to your experience?
MH: I have been working with level 9 and 10 for a year now, and it has been such a cool experience being on the other side of things. Two of our former gymnasts are heading to compete at UW-Stout this fall, and I couldn’t be more excited for them. Our level 10s and I talk a lot about college gymnastics because they are as obsessed with it as I am. I want to make sure young gymnasts know that DI isn’t the only option; it isn’t for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that!
CGN: What would you say to an aspiring college gymnast who is considering attending a Division III school?
MH: When choosing a college, make sure you are looking at more than just the gymnastics program. For me, I knew that I needed small class sizes to be successful, and that eliminated quite a few schools right off the bat. During the recruiting process, remind yourself that you are a student first and an athlete second. Ask yourself, does this school have my major? Can I see myself living here for 4 years? Will I be able to handle the academics at this school? (Be extremely honest with yourself.) Do the coaches care more about academics than scores? Will my personality fit with these girls? The list goes on and on, but you are there first and foremost to get an education. Take your time with your decision and explore all options. I encourage young gymnasts to look at DIII. We do the sport because we love it. It’s a fun little family, and the meets are still crazy and fun even with smaller crowds. Just to be a collegiate athlete, no matter what the level, is an incredible accomplishment.
Article by Mary Emma Burton
Like what you see? Consider donating to support our efforts throughout the year!