Freshman JV gymnast Samantha Wong gathers her momentum going into a trick on the uneven bars during a gymnastics meet on April. 24. Photos by Daniel Green View more photos from this gallery >
White chalk dusts the air as a slim girl flies through the air, doing tricks while swinging on two uneven bars.
This year the number of the varsity gymnasts has increased from 7 last year to 15, according to gymnastics coach, Lesley de Dios. “The team grew so much because there’s a rule in place that states if you’re a senior you cannot be on any junior varsity team — no matter the sport,” she said. “This rule is dangerous and unfair in a lot of ways because like any other sport, without the proper time spent for training, the risk of injury goes up. However, gymnastics is a dangerous sport and throwing a kid in varsity just because they’re a senior means throwing them in a group with a much higher skill level — making it hard to compete with. For example, in JV they might have been really good, winning different events and such, but in varsity they're limited to one maybe two events. It's unfair because they spent three years prior on JV and everyone likes to end their high school career on top and for me to tell them they aren't allowed to compete JV was really difficult. But we have to abide by it so we moved five our girls to varsity as floor specialists. We also have a number of freshmen who tried on and made out junior varsity squad.”
The increase in numbers has led to a few growing pains. It is difficult for the girls to practice together efficiently. “Since we have such a big varsity team now, we kind of have to fight for our time on the equipment,” JV gymnast Tamara Chan said.
However, a benefit is the need for new uniforms. The varsity team now wears Adidas leotards and JV received alpha factor leotards. The color scheme is the same — Cardinal red is key — but the design is different, according to JV sophomore gymnast Jennifer Chen. Varsity has red and black-long sleeve leotards and JV has red and white no-sleeve leotards.
Although sharing the gym with the badminton team and boys’ volleyball is difficult, the girls still get to practice two to three hours Monday to Saturday. They challenge themselves to develop their skills such as flips and tumbling and strength on the equipment, as when they swing from high to low. “I like doing bars the best because I love swinging and it makes me feel like I'm flying through the air,” freshman JV gymnast Sarah Chou said. “Although it is painful getting rips, it’s definitely worth it. I also like it because, unlike floor routines, there's no real rhythm or musicality involved, and unlike beam there's no time pressure, so you aren’t really rushed.”
De Dios expressed appreciation for how well the girls bond, from the depth provided by experienced gymnasts and the excitement of the newbies. “It’s not just JV bonding with JV and varsity bonding with varsity; we’re all coming together and are really supportive of one another, which is a great strength this team has,” de Dios said. “Coming to practice day in, day out and, back-to-back meets can get tiring, but they’re having fun and that is what’s most important. I like that we have a lot of depth and a lot of freshmen that will continue to grow with this team.”
Out of the four events, the team is having the most trouble with the uneven bars and their strongest event would be floor. “Our weakness, gymnastics wise, would have to be bars; however, having a large team has helped tremendously and we are quickly becoming stronger,” de Dios said. “It is a difficult event that requires a lot of upper-body strength and can be a bit scary. Having only two months preparation time — half of that actually on the equipment — is not a lot of time to get the skills necessary and comfortable for competition. Both JV and varsity tend to be excellent floor workers. We work a lot on tumbling and our floor scores are generally pretty high.”
The veterans help the new gymnasts improve their form “The juniors and sophomores on JV helped me learn and perfect my floor and beam routine,” Chou said. “The returning juniors and sophomores on JV helped me learn and perfect my floor and beam routine. When our coach wasn't here they taught it to us, and helped us with proper form and technique. They also give us advice about how to execute a certain skill, like say, a round off back-extension roll. They would help tell you what you are doing wrong and show you the right way.”
Gymnastics demands daring movements and unfamiliar moves can feel a little edgy. “The most challenging part is probably learning new tricks,” freshman JV gymnast Samantha Wong said. “Doing new things can be really scary, but you just have to trust the people spotting you. It can also be hard on the body — I get shin splints, bruises, and blister rips a lot.”
Even more challenging than physical setbacks is the effort needed to “psyche” yourself up. “The most challenging part for me is mentally allowing myself to do certain skills,” varsity junior gymnast Jordan Ahn said. “I get what are called ‘mental blocks’ on certain skills, which is where I can physically do the skill but I mentally cannot get in the right mindset. These mental blocks are very annoying, but I have been overcoming them much more easily this year by feeling more confident. I tend to not think so much whilst doing a skill now because I have learned to trust that my body has learned the movements through muscle memory.”
The gymnasts feel anticipation whenever they go to a competition, which can be an issue. “Another weakness is how we deal with the pressure at competitions,” de Dios said. “Many of my girls get nervous before every meet/every performance; we now have to learn how to compete with that pressure.”
However, the independent skills built by being on the team also give the girls a chance to shine with confidence. “It’s different being on gymnastics where when I compete, it’s just me and I’m being judged on my own performance, so it’s not really a place where I can just hide behind another person,” senior JV gymnast Shirley Ng said. “But this does break me out of my comfort zone and helps me be more confident in my own abilities, especially with a team of girls that are there to cheer me on.”
The Lowell gymnastics team is the only one in the San Francisco Unified School District which forces the girls to compete against more practiced suburban teams. “It’s a little inconvenient since most of our meets are so far away, but I think overall we do pretty well even against teams with more funding and better equipment,” freshman JV gymnast Leah Siegel said.
Support the girls at JV finals on May 4 at Classic Gymnastics in Tracy at 4 p.m.