Minnesota’s small senior class has big leaders

The Gophers have three seniors to a total of nine newcomers on the team.

Emily Polglaze

Minnesota’s seniors are three-times outnumbered on this year’s women’s gymnastics team, but their impact is far from lost in the crowd.

Bailie Holst, Bailey Abernathy and Kaitlin Rahon are the Gophers’ lone seniors this year to seven freshmen and two transfers, but they’ve managed to find a way to impact them all.

“They’ve been really helpful with school and in practice, confidence-wise,” said freshman Paige Williams. “And then if you’re having troubles at home, they’re always there.”

As the most seasoned veterans on the team, the seniors said that the most effective way to lead a large class of younger teammates is to divide and conquer.

Holst, Abernathy and Rahon each have their own, distinct roles on the team that they uphold in the gym and out.

“At meets, for instance, I try to get people very calm and very confident,” Holst said. “I know I had confidence issues, so I try to put that confidence into them like, ‘You’ve got this, you’ve got this.’”

In addition to being the zen of the group, Abernathy added that Holst’s technical eye is helpful for coach-like critiques and advice in practice.

Abernathy, in contrast, is the “Energizer bunny” of the three. She said she loves to put a smile on her teammates’ faces, but she’s also a pillar of support in tough times.

“In my past, I didn’t compete in my first two years, so I’ve been there,” Abernathy said. “So encouraging those who might not have gotten the start they wanted, and to keep pushing them and telling them to keep thriving.”

Rahon specializes in beam and floor in competition, and said she likes to get the “beam team” ready to go and in performance mode as the anchor.

She’s also the professional of the group. A Carlson School of Management student and a Scholastic All-American, Abernathy joked that Rahon is the one who can look over your resume, or pick out an outfit for a banquet or interview.

Williams went on to say that the seniors make the effort to help the new teammates feel welcome, especially those that are far away from home – which includes homemade meals, something that Abernathy said she and Rahon love to do.

Inside the gym, the seniors aim to guide the newcomers to the best of their abilities in the new world of college gymnastics, which can veer from what they may be used to.

“[We] try to instill confidence in them, especially in college gymnastics and in that environment, showing them they can do it and they can perform well under pressure,” Rahon said. “College gymnastics is much different than club. It’s very team-oriented, even though you’re on that beam by yourself.”

As with any senior athlete, the three said that the season, and their careers, have gone by faster than they ever thought possible, and that they’re enjoying each moment from here on out, even with big goals in mind like nationals.

For the rookies they’ve led over the past season, though, their impact will be felt long after their last meet.

“I’d feel lucky to be half the people they are, I think they’re awesome,” said freshman Ryan Stach. “They just come here really motivated every day and they make the most of everything, that’s what I want to do when I’m a senior. They make every weekend count, every practice count.”

Minnesota’s senior class will be honored during Saturday’s last home meet of the season at the Sports Pavilion against BYU at 4 p.m.