Honorable trend continues for ISU gymnastics


Sam Greene/Iowa State Daily

Chalk sprays from senior Caitlin Brown’s hands as she grabs on to the uneven bars.

Kevin Horner

It is often said that a team is only as good as its weakest link, yet the opposite has held true for ISU gymnastics for the last half-decade.

Despite failing to reach the NCAA Championships as a team since 2006, Iowa State has still been represented at nationals through individual competitors in five of the last six years. Senior Caitlin Brown carried on this esteemed legacy with her successful performance at the NCAA Regional competition on April 4.

Given these recent successes and habitual appearances at the NCAA Championships, Brown’s qualification came as less of a surprise and more of an expected result from an ongoing trend.

“It’s always our goal to have someone representing Iowa State at the national championship,” said ISU gymnastics coach Jay Ronayne. “It’s just what we do.”

Brown, who advanced to nationals for her second straight year, will be thrown in with names such as Michelle Browning and Michelle Shealy as a member of an elite group of ISU gymnasts — a group that, despite team shortcomings, continued to shine light on the ISU program.

“It means a lot [to carry on this legacy],” Brown said. “It means that Iowa State gymnastics is a force to be reckoned with. It means that we are good and we can compete on a national stage. Just because our team didn’t make it this year or the other years, it doesn’t mean you can count us out.”

Browning, a teammate of both Brown and Shealy, began this individual streak of success by finishing sixth in the all-around competition at the NCAA West Regional in 2010. Unfortunately for Browning and the Cyclones, the 2010 ISU Ironwoman of the Year had to withdraw from the competition at nationals due to blood clots in her lungs. Despite this setback, Browning’s success served to start a trend that would carry on for years to come.

Shealy, a Cyclone from 2011-2014, also qualified for the NCAA Championships in her freshman and junior seasons. The Snellville, Ga. native was also a member of the All-American first team for the beam, finishing in a tie for fifth in the event at the NCAA Championships in 2013. Inhibited by injuries, Shealy did not compete all-around in 2014, but regardless, she passed on the torch to Brown, who carried it through both her junior and senior seasons.

“[Browning and Shealy] are both people I really look up to and respect,” Brown said. “They embody what it means to be an Iowa State gymnast completely. To be in that group of names with them, I’m really honored.”

These three women have kept ISU gymnastics on the map despite Iowa State’s inability to return to the NCAA Championships as a team for a number of years. However, with Brown graduating next year, the Cyclones will need a new gymnast to step up, or, as the Cyclones would prefer, the whole team to once again reach the big stage.

Much remains in the air for the future of ISU gymnastics concerning their national legacy, but Caitlin Brown has confidence this run will not take any hiatus despite the conclusion of her ISU career.

“We still are continuously making strong gymnasts,” Brown said. “To have so many young ones and to have Haylee [Young], who almost made it [to nationals] her first year, it says something about Iowa State gymnastics. This is a strong program and we should be looked at on a national stage.”