Desire for Competitive Action Key to Ariel Posen’s Switch from UCLA to Georgia

The last time fans saw Ariel Posen compete was in the summer of 2019 at the U.S. championships. She was a junior who was training at MG Elite and was committed to UCLA.

Two years later, she’s now a completely different athlete. She trains at Arena Gymnastics as a level 10, she’s focused on preparing for college and she’s committed to Georgia for the 2023 season. 

In the two-year hiatus, Posen has faced a lot of challenges, which have changed her approach to gymnastics and her goals in the sport. 

Posen was only 13 years old when she moved alone from New York to New Jersey to train at MG Elite. During her time there, she won a level 10 national title on floor in 2018 and qualified elite in 2019, finishing seventh on beam at the junior U.S. championships.

With excellent form on all events and a whole season of elite gymnastics under her belt, Posen’s future at the top level of the sport looked bright. A series of adverse circumstances, however, were about to change her career entirely.

That September, Posen tore her ACL, sidelining her for the Olympic season before it even started. Around the same time, USA Gymnastics opened an investigation on MG Elite head coach Maggie Haney over accusations of verbal and emotional abuse, which led to a five-year suspension a few months later. 

Posen decided to leave MG Elite and relocated to First State in January 2020 along with clubmates Zoe Gravier and Skye Kerico. “I chose First State because it had a great reputation with a good record of success,” Posen said. “The gym was also within driving distance, which made it possible for me to come home and go to my physical therapist. I also already knew some of the girls from competitions, so it was a no brainer for me.”

As Posen started training alongside world champion Morgan Hurd at First State, though, her own elite career was coming to an end. The pandemic canceled the 2020 season and Posen tore her meniscus the following January, which prematurely ended her 2021 campaign. “The last two years were not exactly what I had hoped for, but I am grateful my ACL looked great when they operated on my meniscus and my recovery has been relatively easy,” Posen said. “I do physical therapy several times a week for recovery and injury prevention, including strength training, so I believe I’m stronger than ever.”

As time progressed, Posen’s gymnastics goals also changed. Her focus shifted from elite to college and she became committed to preparing the best she could for her NCAA career. To get ready for college, Posen recently decided to move gyms again from First State to Arena because, she said, “They have a great record of creating successful NCAA gymnasts, which is my ultimate goal.” Indeed, Arena was home, among others, to USAG national bar champion Mei Li Costa of Brown and rising juniors Vanessa Deniz of Oklahoma and Amanda Cashman of Georgia.

“The decision to switch gyms wasn’t easy, but my primary goal this year is to prepare to be a successful NCAA gymnast, start perfecting routines and plan for college,” Posen explained. “My approach to gymnastics has evolved to become more efficient in my training with a greater emphasis on quality over quantity, in order to stay healthy and perform at my best.”

Seeing no competitive action for two years except for one lone meet in January 2021 left Posen frustrated and more motivated than ever to compete as much as possible in college. The determination to see regular action in the NCAA was instrumental in her decision to switch her commitment from UCLA to Georgia. “Although I love UCLA, the coaching staff and all that they represent and stand for, the pandemic was a real game changer for me,” she said. “The majority of the class of 2020 deferred until 2021, and the fifth-year option would make it harder to make the lineup and contribute to the team as much as I’d hoped. After not being able to compete recently, I’m really determined to be a regular in the lineup.”

Georgia was always one of her top choices when she was originally looking at schools, as she loved the athletic facilities and the coaching staff, especially Courtney Kupets Carter, who is “a real inspiration” to Posen. Since then, moreover, one of Posen’s closest friends, rising sophomore Katie Finnegan, joined the Gymdogs, which also played an important role in her decision. Overall, she explained, “the quality of the education and the beautiful campus and college town at the University of Georgia, coupled with the unbelievable enthusiasm and support of their fans, essentially made this decision for me.”

At Georgia, Posen believes that she will likely start off by contributing on bars and beam, but later she hopes to become a regular in the all around. “I really think I can contribute on a consistent basis and hope to achieve many 10.0s over the course of my career,” she said. “There are many skills that I’m working on right now that I’m excited to showcase in college.”

As Posen prepares for her final year of club gymnastics, she prefers to remember, amidst all the difficulties, the experiences she’s thankful for. In particular, she likes to recount the friendships she’s developed throughout the years. At MG Elite, Posen trained with world champion Riley McCusker and became close friends with her. “We developed a real friendship, and I learned a lot from her, especially her passion for the sport,” Posen said. 

At First State, Posen also enjoyed training alongside Hurd. “I always admired her gymnastics and feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with her. I had great experiences with her outside and inside the gym,” she said. “I sincerely respect her passion and commitment to using her voice. She is a great role model.”

All her difficult experiences taught Posen the importance of resiliency and perseverance in gymnastics as in life. “From living away from home with a host family at 13 and becoming independent at an early age, to overcoming many obstacles and injuries, [it] has taught me how to deal with life’s many challenges and to see them all as a learning experience, as both a person and as a gymnast,” she said. “I’ve learned that getting knocked down isn’t what matters, it’s how you pick yourself up afterwards. I feel that I am a stronger individual now, and I am much better prepared to overcome whatever challenges lie ahead.” 

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Article by Talitha Ilacqua 

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