“Underdog” mentality, offseason preparation leads Cyclones to season-opening win

Iowa State junior Haylee Young performs her uneven bars routine, scoring a 9.8. The Cyclones hosted Arizona State at Hilton Coliseum for simultaneous gymnastics and wrestling meets, dubbed ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ The gymnastics team defeated the Sun Devils 193.850-191.8, while the wrestling team lost 25-14. 

Austin Anderson

The returners from last season’s Iowa State women’s gymnastics team had a bad taste in their mouths at the end of the 2016 season.

The team sent one gymnast, Meaghan Sievers, to the NCAA championship but a loss to Kentucky ended the regular season. A last-place finish in the Big 12 Championship ended the team’s entire season.

Then the gymnasts went to work.

“Honestly, as a whole team we worked the hardest we’ve ever worked before in the preseason,” said junior Haylee Young, who finished with the best all-around score in the Cyclones’ 193.850-191.800 victory over Arizona State on Friday at Hilton Coliseum. “I thought my freshman year and sophomore year were hard, but this year was a whole new ball game.”

The gymnasts were doing more numbers than they had ever done before, and the conditioning and reps were increased throughout the offseason. Young said the preparation got to the point where it was “mentally draining” for her, but this was also the most prepared she had felt for a meet.

As hard as the training was, the first meet of the 2017 season appears that it just might have been worth it.

The Cyclones took the lead early after the first transition and never looked back despite distractions. The annual simultaneous wrestling and gymnastics meet “Beauty and the Beast” actually helped focus his team, coach Jay Ronayne said.

The lights shut off in Hilton Coliseum before the meet began as a hype video, a common occurrence for the wrestling team but a new experience for the gymnasts, played on the screen. Multi-colored smoke fazed over the entrance while a gymnast was hooked to the right and left arm of every starting wrestler as the athletes were introduced.

“It’s very loud, but for me, that fuels me and it gives me a lot of adrenaline so I love it,” Sievers said.

It was a big event well suited for a big win for a Cyclone team that feels it has something to prove.

“It was a really crappy ending to [last] season,” Ronayne said. “They trained really, really, really hard in the summer time and last semester. They’re hungry for success. It’s really important for us to start with success and be able to build.”

The success has a solid foundation to build off of.

At the awards ceremony after the meet, Young’s name was called for her first-place finish in the uneven bars, and she stood up and accepted flowers from the kid captain of the meet. Then she did it again for her first-place floor finish. And again for her first place for the balance beam.

And again, for a final time, for the highest scorer all-around on a Cyclone team that received the 40th most points in the preseason NCAA poll.

“She’ll be stepping up to the winner’s podium often,” Ronayne said. “That’s her expectation, but that’s mine too.”

Ronayne said at the end of last season that Young’s performances on the uneven bars were her weak events, which transitioned into a focal point of her off-season improvement.

“I love being the underdog,” Young said. “Proving people wrong is my favorite thing, so I don’t mind being ranked 40th. I want to surprise a lot of people this year.”