For Ona Loper, Practice Makes Perfect

There was an undeniable feeling of anticipation as the Gophers got ready to take the floor in Mautri Pavilion at their first home meet of the season. Like the multicolored ligh-up gloves the gymnasts wore as they waved to the crowd during their introductions, there were pops of color and joy everywhere you looked. The excitement was palpable, and Minnesota was ready to put on a show. 

The night was filled with moments of pure electricity, most notably when junior Lexy Ramler scored her second perfect 10 on the heels of her first, which occurred only the week prior. But hidden in all the excitement and noise was a quieter moment of triumph: junior Ona Loper taking her first victory in the all around with a career-best 39.525. 

While this has been a bit of a breakout season for Loper, she has been quietly and consistently improving as an all around competitor over the course of her career. She is well known for her beautiful vault and floor routine, but can tend to fly under the radar on the other events. That is  beginning to change, however, and her work ethic is a big reason why.

“She’s one of the hardest working kids that we have on the team,” head coach Jenny Hansen said of Loper’s motivation to keep improving. 

There’s one person in particular who has been motivated by Loper’s success in the all around: her teammate and roommate Lexy Ramler. 

“She’s my best friend. We’re in the gym together, we live together, we’re always together. We definitely feed off each other and so to see her grow is pretty cool. I’m really proud of her,” Ramler said. 

Loper was quick to return the compliment: “[Lexy] pushes me every day in practice; her work ethic is insane. Every day going in and trying to be like her has honestly helped me.”

Loper’s  success has not been without setbacks, however. After suffering a tear in her Achilles tendon during her freshman season—which was the first injury of her career— she realized how driven she was to get back on all four events, not just the two for which she is most known. 

“I just tried to keep an open mind about it, didn’t want to dwell too much on missing out on my freshman year,” Loper said. “I [really focused on] rehab because I wanted to go all around again, so I was like, ‘I have to do it’. [Being patient] was very difficult.” 

Her patience paid off. The Gophers surpassed all expectations last year and are well on their way to a record-breaking 2020 season. While it may be easy to get swept up in the excitement and pressure that comes with the kind of success Minnesota has experienced over the last few years, Loper is keeping her head down and focusing on doing the work. 

Meet days are just another excuse to be in the gym doing what she loves, another opportunity to improve. “I try to treat it like another day, another practice. Keep everything the same and not treat it any differently.” 

“She loves to practice,” laughed Hansen. “Like, [she] just can’t wait to get to practice. She will take more turns than anybody else on the team, she just keeps going and going and going.” 

Loper’s level of work ethic lends itself well to becoming a leader on the team. “I think my freshman and sophomore year I was more just [trying] to get through, figure out what was going on,” Loper explained.  “Now I feel like I can really help the underclassmen more.”

As Loper took the floor for her final routine of the night on Saturday, the pressure was on. The Gophers were having an uncharacteristic rotation, and she was following two falls on floor. She needed to lean on all of the hours of hard work and all those turns she took in the gym. Her teammates were depending on her. Instead of letting the pressure get to her, she did what she trained to do: treated it like just another practice routine. 

And it paid off. She was rewarded with a career-best 9.925. 

When asked if there is anything specific she does to prepare before she goes up on an event, her response was unsurprising: “I usually say ‘do it like practice’, because I know how to do this and I train every day. I always practice.”

For Ona Loper, the practice has certainly paid off. 

Article by Kalley Leer

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