Gayla Griswold, Jaye Mack Illustrate Excellence in the MIC at NCAA Nationals

MIC gymnasts Gayla Griswold and Jaye Mack sat with their respective coaches in the bowels of Dickies Arena in Fort Worth after competing in semifinal one of the 2022 NCAA nationals.

They waited and waited for the press conferences for advancing teams Oklahoma and Utah to end, still in their meet hair and makeup, leotards under team warmups. Finally, they wrapped and it was time to shine the spotlight on their incredible achievements.

Griswold is the first Lindenwood gymnast to ever qualify to NCAA nationals, and one of only a handful of Division II gymnasts with the honor. Mack, just a freshman, is Illinois State’s second competitor after her teammate Angelica Labat blazed the trial in 2021.

It seems incredible, almost unbelievable, that two gymnasts who both competed at regionals as individual competitors and who hail from an independently run conference where team coaches handle all administrative duties would end up on the sport’s biggest stage.

“I am just incredibly grateful to be here. Never in a million years did I think it was going to happen,” Griswold said. Mack’s focus was on enjoying the moment and soaking it all in.

The duo are the only gymnasts who competed at regionals without their teams and qualified to nationals. While it could be a challenge to be thrown in and rotating with new teammates in the hectic atmosphere of the postseason, to Griswold and Mack it was an opportunity.

“The gymnastics world is really close, so just making friends everywhere makes it easier,” Griswold said of competing without her team by her side. Mack added, “It was great to have Gayla there [at the Norman regional] and to have the support of the other individuals.”

Jaye Mack hugs Megan Harrington during semifinal one of the NCAA national championships in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 14, 2022.

While the gymnasts may have surprised themselves by earing their nationals berths, their coaches were not shocked. Illinois State head coach Bob Conkling has been in the MIC for a long time and has always seen talent throughout the conference fly under the radar.

First-year Lindenwood head coach Catelyn Orel has big-stage experience from her time as a Nebraska gymnast and Arkansas assistant. She’s excited and grateful for this experience with Griswold but isn’t surprised.

“She has just worked tirelessly, day-in-day-out from August until now,” Orel said.

Gayla Griswold competes in semifinal one of the NCAA nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 14, 2022.

Both Orel and Conkling are excited to see their athletes get scored alongside the more famous teams and gymnasts in the country and getting the recognition they deserve, both individually and for their teams and conference.

For Griswold, the only gymnast at the championships who competed at regionals, immediately followed by three days of USAG nationals and then came straight to Fort Worth, it is time to rest. She’s exhausted after all of the travel but grateful for the memories.

Ultimately, nationals was about living the dream.

As the Illinois State staff walked Mack out of the press area, Redbird assistant Chris Muras said, “Let’s walk through the arena one more time and let it all sink in.”

Article by Emily Minehart

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