Improved landing boosts vaulter’s scores

Junior Kayla Slechta been the nation’s No. 1 vaulter for most of the season.

Nickalas Tabbert

Kayla Slechta came to Minnesota three years ago with the tools to score high on vault.

But she didn’t put it all together until this year.

She won the vault in her first competition as a freshman and has only gotten better since.

This season, the junior leads the Big Ten conference on vault. Until last weekend, she was the top-ranked vault-scorer in the nation.

The difference in her scoring this year has been the ability to finish her landings.

Coach Meg Stephenson said Slechta struggled with her landings last season but worked over the summer to make an improvement.

Now, Slechta’s form is near-perfect.

“She does that vault as perfectly, technically correct as you can do it,” Stephenson said.

Slechta said she has spent a lot of time in practice training to run faster at the horse in addition to other smaller changes to her routine.

She said she focuses on the process of the vault, not the end result.

“I don’t think about the landing at all,” she said. “I just try to … stay in the moment instead of rushing to the end.”

Maintaining a high level of performance isn’t as hard as you’d expect, Slechta said.

“We go into the gym on Monday, and we take it as a clean slate,” she said. “We think about the gymnastics that we want to perform by the end of the week.”

Stephenson said the most important part of the vault occurs doing the pre-flight, not the landing.

“The higher and stronger you are, the more time you have to do the post-flight and make it look perfect and prepare for the landing,” she said.

Stephenson said Slechta had figured out before this season the most difficult part of the vault — the twist and turns that lead up to the landing. She just needed to polish the end of her routine.

Slechta’s improvements don’t stop with the vault — she wants to compete as an all-around gymnast. She has competed on every apparatus this season except beam, which she struggled on last season.

“I look forward to doing beam,” Slechta said. “I’m just going to keep pushing and pushing until I get there.”