ISU gymnastics brings in talent from across the continent


Emily Hecht/Iowa State Daily

Approximate distance in flying miles from athletes’ home states to Iowa State University: California – 1400, Quebec – 1000, Virginia – 875, Georgia – 815, Texas – 710, Illinois – 315, Nebraska – 140, Minnesota – 140

Harrison March

Recruiting the best young athletes is vital to every athletic program’s success. ISU gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne has racked up a plethora of miles traveling to find those athletes, and the group he has put together for this season comes from all across North America.

Gymnasts on this year’s team come from as far away as California and Quebec, Canada, which are separated by nearly 3,000 miles. Other gymnasts come from nearby states Illinois and Minnesota, but no one on the 2013-14 gymnastics roster calls Iowa their home state.

Ronayne attributed this aspect of his team to a variety of factors. One of the main reasons he noted was the smaller talent pool in Iowa compared to more populated states like Texas, and that many elite gymnasts from Iowa are recruited by perennial gymnastics powerhouse Nebraska.

Ronayne said the hardest part of recruiting, though, is just getting prospects to visit the campus.

“The trick is to get them here for the first time, that’s the real challenge,” Ronayne said. “Sometimes it seems like they aren’t sure where Iowa is, or they might say ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been to Colombus [Ohio] before.’ Once they get on campus, though, it really sells itself.”

Senior Milan Ivory, who hails from Marietta, Ga., cited that reason, among others, convinced her to join the ISU gymnastics team.

“When [Ronayne] offered me a spot on the team, it was over the phone,” Ivory said. “I hadn’t even been on campus yet, but he told me he wanted me to seriously consider coming out for a visit. When I got here, well, I just kind of fell in love with the school and team.”

Along with Ivory, eight more of the team’s 15 members come from outside the Midwest. Ronayne said his experiences coaching at schools and clinics in other regions of the United States have helped him establish relationships with young gymnasts from across the country.

“I knew some of the girls from my time in the south,” Ronayne said. “I had coached at camps that [Michelle] Shealy was at and just knew her from those. I built that relationship with her and a couple of years later I came back to try to get her to visit Iowa State. Meeting the gymnasts at a younger age can really open some doors down the road.”

Senior Camille Santerre-Gervais did not know Ronayne from any experiences as a young gymnast. Instead, the St.-Lazare, Quebec native was drawn to Iowa State by the chance to compete at the collegiate level.

“In Canada, we don’t have universities that compete in smaller sports — there’s football and stuff like that, but not gymnastics,” Santerre-Gervais said. “I really didn’t want to be done with my career at that point and I thought I could double-up as a student and an athlete. Iowa State gave me the best chance to do that.”

Despite their variety of backgrounds, the ISU gymnasts have come together to focus on their common goal. Ivory said that by doing that, this year’s squad has become more than a team.

“The atmosphere with the team is amazing,” Ivory said. “Everybody is really close and there’s always somebody to talk to here, no matter the situation. We’re more than a team; we’re a family.”