For BYU gymnastics coach Guard Young, it seems like it’s been forever since April 5, 2019. That was the date of the NCAA regionals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the Cougars saw their last season come to an end.
But — finally — 2020 is underway.
“We practice these routines over and over again but you never know what is going to happen when you are under the lights,” Young said.
No. 23-ranked BYU hosted No. 15 Nebraska at the Marriott Center Monday evening looking to set a solid tone for the upcoming season.
“We have a funny sport because no matter what Nebraska is doing out there, it’s not going to affect us,” Young said. “We want a good, strong competition, to have the fans enjoy what these young ladies are doing. To have a team like Nebraska that consistently goes to the national championships from the Big 10 come to us and have a good experience, it’s a relationship that we want to keep cultivating — with them and with other big teams. We want to hang with them.”
There were highs and lows for both teams as they worked through the first-match experience but in the end the Cougars did enough to edge the Cornhuskers, 195.750-195.600.
“It was not a perfect day for the Cougars but I liked how we responded,” Young said. “We had the very first girl go down the vault and lose her step. We got lucky that she made good connection with her feet on the board and we didn’t end up losing her for the whole season. We showed great resolve. The future is really bright for us this season.”
Leading the way for BYU was junior Abbey Miner (who is from Mapleton) as she won the all-around competition with a score of 39.325.
“It felt really good,” Miner said. “I was super-excited. For awhile I felt like I was really ready — and then I wasn’t. Then it was here. For the last three days we were so pumped and just wanted it to be here. I’m super-happy with how I did. This is the first meet that I have competed with all my scores counting. It was a relief because I felt like I needed to prove myself on a couple of events. There are still so many places I can improve so getting pretty good scores and still being able to build off of it is really good.”
She said she felt like the Cougars showed well in their first meet.
“It wasn’t that we had to win or get our best score ever,” Miner said. “We wanted to perform to the best of our ability and show the judges what we’ve worked on — because we’ve worked our butts off for months. We made good adjustments because there were a lot of routines that weren’t perfect. But you don’t peak at the beginning of the season. You want to peak at the end.”
Miner was consistent as she scored 9.800 or better in all four events.
BYU also got a superlative performance from junior Abby Stainton, who had the best score on the uneven bars (9.900) and finished second with a score of 39.175 in the all-around competition.
“They are both juniors and haven’t done the all-around since high school,” Young said. “They never gave up on that dream and then earned those spots in practice. What they did was nothing special. I’ve seen it in the gym.”
Miner and Stainton are two of a number of BYU gymnasts who are returning with extensive collegiate experience, something that Young hopes will propel the team to even greater heights.
“Even if they aren’t having the best warmup or the best practice day, you just know those kids are going to figure it out,” Young said. “Experience goes a long, long ways when things aren’t perfect. They are also mentoring the young gymnasts, showing them the Cougar way.”
Miner said this group of Cougars has high expectations for itself this year.
“I think we hold ourselves to a really high standard because we know what we are capable of,” Miner said. “We expect ourselves to have more sticks and fewer wobbles. We want to be a Top 15 team. We need to perform well under pressure and be consistent.”
One of the factors that is always crucial in gymnastics is staying healthy, since it is a very physically demanding sport.
“We lost two senior gymnasts at Thanksgiving,” Young said. “We lost Angel Zhong for the season and it really affected us. Then the next practice, Shannon Evans took the worst spill off the beam that I think I’ve ever seen in 20-something years of doing the sport. It has taken her out for a month and she’s probably about 90-percent back. We had to tell our young girls that they had to be ready, that they could do this.”
The Cougars now prepare for the upcoming Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a treat for gymnastics fans to see Utah, Utah State, Southern Utah and BYU out on the same floor,” Young said. “We’ll be up on a podium which actually heightens the event. I’m a gymnastics fan first and I’m going to sit back and enjoy it. It’s going to be a great event.”