Gymnastics adapts to truncated schedule during pandemic

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The gymnastics team's first three meets of the season against Towson, North Carolina and New Hampshire this season have been delayed because of inclement weather or other mitigating factors.

After three canceled or postponed meets, gymnastics has needed to adapt to an ever-changing slate this season.

The Colonials were set to kick off the 2021 campaign with a meet at Pittsburgh Jan. 24, but it took nearly three weeks for them to open the campaign with a 196.150–192.950 defeat against Towson last week. Head coach Margie Foster-Cunningham and student-athletes said they have needed to be flexible with the frequent changes and stay focused on sharpening their skills and bonding as a team.

“It’s just another chance to see if we can get our preparation to meet our opportunity and our opportunity is coming this weekend,” Foster-Cunningham said. “We’ve just been staying very forward-facing, very offensive in our thinking about what we can do and what we can control.”

Athletic department spokesperson Brian Sereno said GW canceled its participation in the Pittsburgh meet because the team lacked time to “appropriately prepare” for competition.

The next scheduled matchup was a trip to Chapel Hill for a showdown with North Carolina Jan. 31. But the meet was postponed after a snowstorm blanketed much of the Northeast days before the team was set to depart. Both programs are working to reschedule the meet, according to a Jan. 30 release.

The third time was not the charm for the Colonials. New Hampshire did not travel to the Smith Center for a Feb. 7 meet due to inclement weather, delaying the start of the campaign again. The programs are attempting to reschedule the meet for a future date, according to a Feb. 6 statement.

Foster-Cunningham said in her 36 years at the helm, she has never experienced three consecutive cancellations to open the season but added that her team is calm and ready to tackle any obstacle with a “different level of appreciation for an opportunity.”

“This has been a real stretch for everybody this year, but what a growth experience too, and I really feel like I have the right team to do this with,” she said.

Cancellations and delays have become the norm since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. The 2020 schedule was cut short due to the pandemic, causing an abnormally long offseason for the Colonials that desynchronized the team’s development.

“With so much time off, we had quite a few athletes that weren’t able to work out last summer,” Foster-Cunningham said. “So when the athletes returned, we were at all different levels.”

Junior Olivia Zona said having meets canceled can be a “little bit” frustrating, but the team was afforded extra time to practice for its eventual competitions. The Colonials have also held intra-squad sets where the gymnasts can showcase their skills in a simulated competition environment.

Zona said sharing a space with her teammates in their off time has also been helpful because they can constantly interact with each other.

“We know our freshmen so well this year compared to other years just because of the amount of time spent with each other,” Zona said. “Even just doing those little movie nights or dinner days, it’s just been fun getting to know everyone. I think that’s allowed us to be more cohesive as we go into meets now.”

Senior co-captain Anna Warhol said although the team was excited to begin the season as originally planned, the student-athletes were prepared for the unexpected during a year full of uncertainty.

“People were ready for anything,” Warhol said. “We were ready for a whole season, we were ready for any kind of calls to be made and on the switch of a dime to be able to adapt to it and that’s something that we’ve been talking a lot about this year.”

Warhol said when the snowstorm struck D.C., the team held workouts in its District affinity residence hall for the gymnasts to compete against each other. The team has also been cooking meals together to strengthen their bond even further, she said.

A pandemic-stricken season is hardly a typical introduction to collegiate competition for the team’s four freshmen, but Foster-Cunningham said it’s “almost easier” to manage them than the upperclassmen because the first-years can’t compare the truncated season to a regular year.

“They’re very adaptive, and they know that there’s going to be nuance to the whole year,” Foster-Cunningham said. “We might go this way or we might go that way and they’re going with it, and like I said, an ideal group of athletes to go through this type of season with.”

The Colonials’ second opportunity to compete will come Friday at 6 p.m. when they face off with NC State, William and Mary and Oklahoma in Raleigh.

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