Last month, standing on the floor of Alaska Airlines Arena during Washington’s Purple and Gold intrasquad meet was a full circle moment for Jen Llewellyn. The Kenmore, Washington, native was making her Huskies head coaching debut in the very same building where she first experienced the joys of collegiate gymnastics as a club gymnast while watching and volunteering with her team.
“Coaching on the floor with the team was really surreal,” said Llewellyn, whose Huskies officially start the 2022 season at this weekend’s Collegiate Challenge. “It’s been a dream to be somewhere like Washington and to have it actually come true. I’m super grateful and thankful for it.”
Llewellyn took over the reins as head coach for her hometown team this past summer after turning Lindenwood into a Division II powerhouse over the past decade. After having to unexpectedly step into the Lions’ head coaching role following the program’s first-ever meet, Llewellyn won two USAG Coach of the Year honors while guiding her teams to six conference and three national championships. This succeeded a successful gymnastics career of her own, where she earned first-team All-America honors along with regional and Pac-10 titles on uneven bars for Oregon State.
While it wasn’t easy to leave Lindenwood after being with the program since its inception in 2013, Llewellyn knew she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return home or join a program she believes can help her achieve her professional goals of winning Pac-12 and NCAA titles. To help her do so, Llewellyn filled her roster of coaches with familiar faces who also played a helping hand in her successes at Lindenwood. Cody Llewellyn was a no-brainer addition to the staff, not because he’s Jen’s husband, but because of his ability to coach people, not just gymnastics.
“So much of coaching nowadays is coaching more than just the student-athlete, it’s helping people be their best selves. [Cody’s] really great at knowing how to communicate with people and different types of people and just being a support system,” Jen Llewellyn said.
A second no-brainer and familiar face added to the staff was Jeffrey Langenstein, who worked alongside the Llewellyn’s at Lindenwood for two seasons before taking on a role at San Jose State. As a fellow West Coast native and former Pac-12 gymnast himself, Langenstein’s coaching background and recruiting connections were something Jen Llewellyn couldn’t pass up.
“He’s got a really good technical eye and background, and he’s really well-rounded,” Jen Llewellyn said of Langenstein. “I knew working under Joanne [Bowers] for three years he had learned a lot and grown a lot, so I knew in my gut that he was the best fit.”
Llewellyn and her coaching staff inherit a Washington team that is coming off of a tumultuous 2021. The Huskies finished last at the Pac-12 Championship, lost a weekly all-arounder to transfer, had a four-star recruit decommit, and missed out on qualifying to regionals as a team for only the second time in program history. However, Llewellyn said the team is excited, motivated and “ready to prove who Washington really is.”
To do that, the coaching staff has been pushing the theme of “consistency” amongst themselves throughout the offseason. In gymnastics, consistency typically refers to being able to hit routines week after week, but for the Huskies’ coaches, they’re focusing on consistency as people.
“For me it’s showing up, being consistent every day and letting the gymnasts know that I’m here for them,” Langenstein said. “It’s not just saying the right buzzwords, but acting on them.”
Llewellyn echoed Langenstein’s comments.
“My biggest thing is always showing up and being consistent in who I am as a coach. I don’t ever want them to think I’m one person in the gym and a different person outside of the gym. I’m always trying to stay level-headed in everything I do and also show them that I’m a human-being,” Llewellyn said.
And so far, so good on that consistency, says fifth-year Geneva Thompson, who credits Llewellyn as the reason for taking advantage of her extra eligibility. Llewellyn was thankful to get to campus early in the summer to have the opportunity to build relationships with the gymnasts and “recruit our current team.”
“It’s been amazing. I definitely don’t think I would be back this year if we didn’t get a new coaching staff,” Thompson said. “You can just tell how much she cares by what she says and how she commits to showing up every day. I can say that about all three of the coaches, but with Jen you can tell how thankful and grateful she is to be at UW.”
Langenstein, too, believes the big transition for Washington has gone smoothly. Largely in part to the previously established chemistry amongst the coaches, but also because of the team’s adaptability.
“It has been wonderful to be around people and to step into an environment that was so welcoming and hungry to learn,” Langenstein said. “They were very welcoming and open minded about all the changes.”
With a full regular season planned and fans (hopefully) back in the stands, Llewellyn and her team are pumped to get their 2022 schedule underway. Taking a week-by-week approach to the season, Llewellyn knows she’s unlikely to check off all her professional goals in her first year at Washington, but she’s thrilled to see what the Huskies are capable of regardless.
“There’s still so much more for this program to attain. Obviously, we’re not going to attain it year one because it’s a process,” Llewellyn said. “But we have 12 opportunities to be at our best. So that’s what I’m most excited for, week after week seeing what more we can accomplish.”
Article by Brandis Heffner
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