LSU was falling apart on bars and beam, Missouri was being its consistent self, Iowa was looking ready to pounce and Hallie Copperwheat was getting set to compete on her best events. While Copperwheat was competing at her first regionals in Raleigh, she was thinking about was her teammates back in Pittsburgh, wishing that they were there with her. Yes, she had the gymnasts from LSU cheering her on, but it wasn’t the same. Without them there it was still an “invaluable experience” being able to compete alongside the other teams, and it was a motivation going into 2023.
In less than four months, nine teams will come to Pittsburgh with the hopes of qualifying to the national championships two weeks later. Since the top-36 regionals format started, a host has never failed to qualify a full team. Pittsburgh is hoping that the trend will continue in 2023 and make it back to regionals for the first time since 2018.
Going into the 2022 season, Pittsburgh was hoping to make that leap from bubble team to regional qualifier. It had a large freshmen class coming in to add much-needed depth on all four events. While the Panthers fell short of that goal, the team still managed to have a successful season. Like many teams in 2022, Pittsburgh broke the program record team score, as well as broke the beam record on three separate occasions.
Copperwheat recalled the experience of breaking the beam record. “We worked so hard on that event to put everything together, so that was just a feeling unlike anything else.”
Most importantly perhaps, the team gained experience. Head coach Samantha Snider was glad that a variety of gymnasts were able to compete in lineups throughout the season. About half of the lineup spots were filled with freshmen who were able to learn from the returners and gain competitive experience themselves. Much of the challenge competing as a freshman is the mental aspect. The team first broke the beam record while in Texas, and it felt like a culmination of all the hard work the team has put into that event. It was an amazing moment, but what happened after is what Snider was most proud of.
“It would have been so easy for them to say we broke the record and become complacent with that, but they really weren’t,” she said.
Going into the 2023 season, the Panthers want to maximize the team’s potential and show the gymnastics community what they are capable of. To prepare for this 2023 season, Snider has taken a different approach to preparing the team for success. The biggest focus of the coaching staff has been mental preparation. With a young team, the practices have consisted of a lot of pressure sets and getting into a competition mindset early on.
Snider described the experience of a freshman saying, “It’s loud, there’s energy, you’re excited, you’re nervous, you’re all these things, and so we’ve really tried to prepare them for that.” A gymnast’s freshman season can get overwhelming very quickly, so making sure the gymnasts have the tools they need to manage those feelings is important to be able to start the season strong.
When it comes to qualifying for regionals, getting those countable scores during the first couple of meets can make a big difference at the end of the regular season. The mentality shift this season has been embraced by the members of the team, too, and the returners feel like it’s already working. It will not be easy to qualify, with so many good teams on the bubble, but the Panthers hope the experience from last season and the mental shift in practice will carry them onto regionals as a full team.
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Article by Alyssa Van Auker
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