2015 season provides learning, growth for young ISU gymnastics team


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Freshman Briana Ledesma lets the bar fall out of her grip while competing on the uneven bars against Oklahoma on Feb. 8.

Kevin Horner

In any sport, with youth comes inexperience. 

Although an athletic season provides a significant amount of time to begin to accrue experience, for ISU gymnastics, one season may not have been quite sufficient.

In contrast to this season’s senior class, which only boasts one gymnast — lone senior Caitlin Brown — the incoming freshman class seemed to overflow with young gymnasts, occupying seven of the 16 roster spots. This plethora of young talent served as Iowa State’s greatest asset at times, but due to a lack of collegiate experience, that foundation could only hold to a certain extent.

“Over half of our team was new to us this year,” said ISU assistant coach Katie Minasola. “I think that getting that ‘feeler’ year out for the young people on our team was good. We didn’t have [the] greatest year, but yet it was still better than previous years.”

With the mean gymnast age being just more than 19 and a half, the Cyclones accepted that learning and becoming accustomed with collegiate gymnastics would naturally occur this season. As it is in various areas of life, sometimes the best learning experience results from adversity.

The Cyclones underwent their fair share of missteps and inconsistencies given the youth of their roster, but when presented with that adversity, the Cyclones responded with glimpses of a unit that had been collaborating for years.

“I think we did well fighting back from adversity,” said ISU head coach Jay Ronayne. “When things didn’t go exactly as planned, I think the team responded pretty well.”

One particular instance of this adversity occurred in State College, Pa. on Feb. 28. Iowa State was on the road facing three East Coast squads: Penn, Penn State and Brockport State. 

Given their role as the visitor, the Cyclones began the meet on the opposite end of their typical start at Hilton Coliseum, thus concluding — instead of beginning — with the vault. To its dismay, Iowa State logged three straight sub-49.000 scores on the opening events to commence the meet, hampering its chance to improve its RQS at the time. 

Iowa State, however, countered these mishaps with a season-high score on the vault of 49.275, led by junior Alex Marasco’s 9.900. Although inexperience potentially generated the aforementioned adversity, the Cyclones manifested growth and maturation in their response.

“I think one of our strengths was coming together when it got hard, when we were down,” said freshman Briana Ledesma. 

Although these moments of advancement and development were not quite enough to return the team as a whole to the NCAA Championships, Iowa State hopes this accumulated experience will help cultivate a more successful environment moving forward.

With the 2015 Big 12 all-around champion returning — freshman Haylee Young — along with multiple other significant contributors such as freshmen Hilary Green and Kelsey Paz, the Cyclones have confidence in their future as a program.

“With the freshman class getting experience under their belt and the new freshman class coming in with their talent, I’m just so excited,” Minasola said. “Next year, I think we are going to blow people out of the water.”