Boise State has ranked in the top 16 on bars every year since 2011. In nine seasons, bars was or was tied as the Broncos’ best apparatus. In 2016, they topped out at No. 6 in the country.
For years, Neil Resnick was the reigns of the team’s success on the event. He was the primary uneven bar coach during his 12 years at Boise State and also served as co-head coach with Tina Bird.
In 2019, Neil Resnick retired from his position and Tina Bird was left to search for a replacement who would certainly have big shoes to fill.
“I put my feelers out, just knowing it was going to be maybe a longer process to find somebody who is the best fit for the kids,” Bird said.
Ivan Alexov was in Bulgaria at the time visiting family and hasn’t been coaching for a few months. However, he’s well-known in the gymnastics world for his coaching prowess, especially on bars, having spent five years on the USA Gymnastics National Team staff.
“I didn’t really realize that he was going to be available,” Bird said. “As soon knew he was not tied down anywhere, I contacted him because I thought he would be a perfect fit for us. And he has been.”
The two coaches have similar styles with an attention to details and emphasis on technique. Basics combined with practicing body shape, alignment and handstands have allowed the program to consistently perform at the highest level.
Senior Emily Muhlenhaupt says the coaches have an eye for perfection. “Anything I do, even if I have one flexed foot a little bit—that’s not good enough,” Muhlenhaupt said.
During the season, the team spends four to five days training between competitions. One whole day is specifically reserved for basics and routine parts with full routines during the remaining practices.
“To stay in top shape it’s a fine line, and it’s a little tricky sometimes,” Alexov said. “I try to reward them with shorter assignments so they get quality turns versus quantity.”
Once the season is over, the team focuses even more time on basics and conditioning. Plus, the gymnasts use the extra time as an opportunity to tweak routine composition and add new skills that will maximize success in the year to come.
Alexov and Bird say the key is to find concise, clean and consistent routines for each athlete. Alexov explained that each athlete in the lineup only completes one giant prior to the dismount instead of two. Moreover, they strive to reduce pirouettes on top of the bar and minimize any other opportunity for deductions.
It’s working pretty well for the Broncos so far.
The team currently has two athletes ranked in the top 34 in the country with Emily Muhlenhaupt leading the team at No. 4 overall. The senior has been just shy of perfection, achieving a 9.975 earlier this year and once in 2019. While most gymnasts might be happy with the number, Muhlenhaupt is hoping for more, with not only a 10 being the end goal but a trip to nationals as well.
“It’s the whole team’s dream to make it to nationals, but I hope that at least I can make it as an individual,” she said.
Despite her success thus far, Muhlenhaupt sits just shy of being the program record holder for all-time event titles. And she’ll have an opportunity to break it if she returns for a fifth year in 2022. While Mulenhaupt hasn’t made any final decisions yet, it’s on her mind.
And she’s not the only bars star in Boise. Freshman Emily Lopez is ranked No. 34 and shows signs of taking over the reins from Muhlenhaupt whenever she finally retires.
While the event has always come naturally to Lopez, her short time as a Bronco has allowed her to focus on details and become even better.
“Ivan’s all about doing basics every single day,” she said. “He’s really helped me with shaping and becoming more consistent with all my skills,” says Lopez.
Boise State is known for its bar work, but to take its gymnastics to the next level and compete on the national stage, it’s putting in work to translate that success to the other three events too.
“The team knows that Boise State is known for its bars, so we already have that confidence installed in us,” Muhlenhaupt said. “Not having as much confidence on those other events can be detrimental sometimes, and really owning it and knowing that we can do those other events is probably the biggest factor in elevating them.”
Article by Katie Walsh
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