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Episode 146: The senior gymnasts from UMN bid a golden goodbye

The Golden Gopher gymnastics team says goodbye to its graduating seniors amid its 50th-anniversary celebrations.

SANIAH BATES: Hey guys, my name is Saniah Bates and I’m your host from the Minnesota Daily! Right now you’re listening to In The Know, a podcast dedicated to the University of Minnesota by students, for students. 

As the fall and winter sports season comes to a close, several of our student athletes find themselves going into the off season. Other student athletes find themselves saying goodbye to their teammates, program and coaches— senior athletes in particular. This year, our Golden Gopher gymnastics team is saying goodbye to their five seniors, Mya Hooten, Gianna Gerdes, Emily Koch, Kate Horak and Ella Sirjord.

Each of these Gophers have left an incredible mark on both the gymnastics program here at the U and on Gopher Athletics as a whole. Some were four year contributors to the team, others were walk-ons, but every single athlete left behind a legacy that Gopher Athletics will never forget. When it comes to how these women have left an impact, the word “team” cannot be left behind, according to Gianna Gerdes, an all-around senior from Delaware, Ohio.

GIANNA GERDES: I’d say, like, in my head, this team is my family, like, almost more so than my family back home, because I get to spend so much time with them, at least during this time. So definitely family at the center of everything. Like, everything that I do is for the team and everything that they do is for me and it’s very reciprocated and very strong in our foundation. 

Supporting each other, holding each other accountable and just putting our energy into each person competing or each person outside of the gym and being there in so many different ways. And these girls are, I can come to them with anything and I hope that they can come to me with anything and they’re just my best friends. 

BATES: Even with their final home meet now a memory, the women are far from finished. They’re still on the road doing meets across the country until the very end of their season. Right now, they’re moving into their postseason, competing at regionals and nationals in the next few weeks. 

Fresh from the Big Ten Championship held in East Lansing, Michigan, they secured the second spot, narrowly trailing behind Michigan State as runners-up. With a score of 197.500, they fell just shy of Michigan State’s 197.600. Reflecting on this memorable feat, Ella Sirjord reminisces about her four-year journey and her second year as an all-around competitor.

ELLA SIRJORD: I’m just really excited for these next couple weeks. We’re going into postseason which is regionals, nationals. And I feel like this team, we have it, we’ve put it all together, but I still don’t think we’ve peaked, which I think is super exciting, just to see where we can go still this season. 

Like, it is not over until it is over, so I think we’re all really fired up after Big Tens. We were super close to winning. So every single day we’re thinking about that 1/10, how we can all get 1/10 better and bring it into postseason.

BATES: Whether they’re in the gym or outside of it, these Gopher gymnasts will always have each other’s backs. With the seniors on their way out, it has been crucial for them to keep their team motivated and pushing until the very end. 

SIRJORD: Every day in the gym, every single person, whether that’s cheering a little louder, working 1/10 better, we’re always pushing each other to be the best athletes we can be in and out of the gym, too. Like, we are all incredible students, incredible people. So yeah, I would definitely say just always pushing each other and having fun while we’re doing it, too. It’s super fun with this team and it’s just been a blast these four years.

BATES: Throughout their careers, each of these gymnasts have changed in more ways than one. They’ve become better athletes, teammates and individuals overall. After several seasons filled with mental, physical and emotional growth, these women have undergone remarkable transformation, emerging stronger and better than ever!

Several things have changed quite a bit for Gerdes. She talked about how her gymnastics career evolved as she transitioned into college after doing gymnastics throughout her life.

GERDES: I definitely want to encourage everybody to, at least on the team and those to come after, to just be themselves and also allow themselves to enjoy what they’re doing. I feel like as we grow up in gymnastics, there’s so much focus on doing certain things and just performing at your best and being perfect.

But then you get to college and it’s less focused on your individual performance and like just doing well. And it’s more about the experience and the team and just being the best version of yourself in any aspect. So that’s something that I’ll take away, but also I hope I can sort of reflect through who I am, but in the gym and outside of the gym.

BATES: Speaking of growth, Gerdes also gave her younger self a bit of advice regarding balancing her heavy load of gymnastics, academics and personal care. 

GERDES: I’d say to like prioritize myself as well, or like listen to what I need as a person because gymnastics isn’t forever, even though it seems like it is forever. So when you get to college, you kind of change that perspective to just, like I said before, being the best version of yourself in all aspects, and that will reflect into your gymnastics and your school and to like social things. 

And I feel like growing up, I was more just gymnastics this, gymnastics that, and everything revolved around gymnastics when everything in the grand scheme of things should be collective and will be collective. So just listening to what you need as a person and enjoying the experience because it flies by. 

BATES: Gymnastics may not be forever in terms of person to person careers, but the legacy behind the sport is. This team has already made history within the program with Mya Hooten leaving Gopher Athletics as one of the most decorated gymnasts that the program has ever seen. Alongside their individual accomplishments, this year’s senior class has left an impact that will never be forgotten.

SIRJORD: I feel like it’s not even that I want people to remember myself, but I just want to look back and know that I made an impact on every single one of my teammates and knew that we push each other to make it as far as we could and be just the best team we could be every single year. 

And every single year is different with like a different team. So I would say that’s the main thing is just knowing I left everything out there and gave it my all. 

GERDES: But I’d say not necessarily focusing on the end goals or like the performance goals. As a team, we like to kind of center that focus into staying in the moment and loving the battle in the process. 

So we set like process goals and things that we’re going to do right now to help us get to those performance goals. And that also, that helps us perform better, but it also kind of changes that perspective to allow you to enjoy this experience. And I feel like that’s very prominent in the culture of Gopher Gymnastics because we’ve had alumni come and talk to us.

And we notice a lot of similarities in the like relationships that they’ve made with people on their team, but also seeing the relationship that we have with them. So the impact that I want to have is like establishing how important relationships are, not only with your team, but the people that are in this program like the alumni and maybe people that come after you. 

BATES: All in all, these women have really made an impression on the program, and to top it off, this year was the Gopher gymnastics program’s 50 year anniversary. 

Whenever you attend one of their home meets, you’ll experience Sirjord’s own creation: an intro video that places emphasis on forging history and paying tribute to the gymnasts who paved the way for the current team. For the seniors, this year being both their last and the program’s 50 year anniversary makes this season that much more meaningful and memorable. 

GERDES: I think it’s changed the perspective a little bit, like seeing how gymnastics as a whole in college, but also our program has changed from beginning until now. It’s really not only inspiring to see the women that came before us and how they lay this foundation for us, but kind of established that gratitude a little bit, or re-established that gratitude in me and also the other girls. 

And just soaking it all in and loving every moment because this is an opportunity that not everybody gets. But also female gymnasts didn’t get that opportunity or get the things that we do now. 

SIRJORD: I would say it just kind of makes it that much sweeter. I feel like we’re all kind of just soaking in that this is, this program is a legacy and 50 years is a big deal. And I’m actually sitting. In our like athlete village where we can study and stuff. And I’m looking at our new facility, like right out this window. 

And it’s so cool just to see these like super big things happening this year for us because this team just deserves it so much. Everything, the coaching, all the staff, the support staff, like we deserve it. And it’s so cool to be that part. So I just say we really are soaking in every moment. 

BATES: And according to these athletes, there’s nothing like Gopher’s Gymnastics!

This episode was written by Saniah Bates and produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we appreciate you listening in and feel free to leave us an email at [email protected] with comments, questions or concerns. I’m Saniah, and this is In The Know.

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