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Talented gymnasts elevate spring to new heights in Utah and beyond

Jun 22, 2017 12:27PM ● Published by Travis Barton

Monet Ward (middle) stands on the podium at a gymnastics meet. (Jileen Ward)

Gallery: Talented gymnasts elevate spring to new heights in Utah and beyond [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com
 
You might miss it driving along 300 West near 7200 South, but along there exists a gym with six high-caliber gymnasts training and preparing.
 
Hunt’s Gymnastics Academy currently holds a level 7 team (competitive levels range from 2-10), that took second at the Utah State Gymnastics Championships in March and saw various girls earn the highest all-around scores in their age groups.
 
“Everybody really just grouped together, and they killed it this year,” said Jessica Hunt, one of the team’s three head coaches along with Paul Hunt and Nikki Chavez.
 
Three of the state’s top four all-around scores belonged to girls on the level 7 team. The state meet calculates scores from each event and adds them together for the teams rather than adding the all-around scores.
 
“All of (the level 7s) are just all-around really good on everything which is not always super common,” Jessica said.
 
Hayli Westerlind, 10, earned the top all-around score at state posting an almost perfect 38.75 (out of 40). She went on to take second at regionals in California.
 
“She’s our top one in our gym, she’s the top in the state of Utah. She’s doing really good,” Jessica said.
 
But it’s not just Westerlind whose been performing well. Nya Samora and Monet Ward, both 11, finished in the top four and many on the team are working level 9 and 10 skills. Hunt said level 10 gymnasts are typically college bound gymnasts.
 
The level 7s won most of the tournaments they entered during their January to March season taking first at the Missy Marlowe Wasatch Cup at the Salt Palace. They also competed in Park City, Las Vegas and Reno.
 
Summertime means the season’s over and it’s time to “work, work, work and push, push, push as hard as we can,” said Jessica. With the girls working out 20 hours a week, commitment to the sport comes from a love for it.
 
“It’s just really fun, and I love to flip around,” said Nya, who got involved in gymnastics almost six years ago after her mom saw her doing cartwheels and flips in the hallway.
 
Having seen the Ute’s famous Red Rocks gymnastics team performing the uneven bars, Ward got started in gymnastics coming from a tumbling background.
 
“I thought it was cool watching the Ute gymnasts doing all these cool flips from high bar to low bar (and back),” Monet, who hopes to do gymnastics in college or the Olympics, said. She also likes getting “big calluses” on her hands.
 
While the girls’ commitment to the sport helps, Jessica said there’s a few components that makes the gymnasts excel.
 
“They’ve got the heart, the drive, they’ve got the talent and we just try to push them as hard as we can without breaking them. We don’t want injuries,” Jessica said. “There’s a good balance here of expect(ing) the best but not over the top.”
 
But what really separates them, Jessica said, is their courage.
 
“They’re fearless which is awesome for gymnastics. They’ll try anything you put in front of them,” she said.
 
Nya, who hopes to be an Olympian someday, said she’s scared at first but loses all fear after doing it a few times. The coaches may carry more fear than the gymnasts.
 
“(My coaches) are more afraid of me getting hurt than I am,” Hayli said.
 
Though the team’s ages range from 10 to 15, the girls are all friends.
 
“I feel like they’re my sisters,” Nya said. “Because we’re so close and they’re really good and we always have fun together.”
 
Jessica said it contributes to a strong team morale and healthy competition.
 
“They’re all best friends, they all hang out and have their little sleepovers together, but they’re all very competitive with each other. It’s also what drove them to be so good,” she said.
 
Paul added that when one learns a skill, the others want to learn it too. It makes for a unique group since oftentimes members start to surpass each other and the team splits up.
 
“It’s kind of rare to have the group we have right now,” Jessica said. “It hasn’t happened to us in many years that they’re all progressing together really well. That’s kind of the best thing about them this year and hopefully next year.”
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