Buford High School’s gymnastics team has already had a very strong start to this year’s season, and they hope to continue that momentum through to the state meet in April.
The North Gwinnett Voice spoke with the coaches and athletes during a practice at the Gymnastix Training Center in Buford.
“The best part of watching high school gymnastics is the team focus,” said head coach Tyler Ann Smith. “Our team is high energy and all of our gymnasts are excited to see their team-mates succeed.”
In standard high school gymnastics meets, teams can put forward their top five available gymnasts for each of the four events — floor, vault, uneven bars and beam. Only four can be chosen for each event at the state meet.
The gymnasts are required to meet minimum standards of execution in each event to earn a starting score of 9.2 with extra difficulty being added to elevate the score to a 10.0. Points are deducted for mistakes or flaws in form, with falls resulting in an automatic deduction of half a point.
“Having a 12-member talented (squad) allows for a true ‘next man up’ mentality; it also fosters a healthy inner-squad competition for those four coveted spots in the state line-up,” Smith said.
“Even though they are in competition with each other, they are extremely supportive of each other,” she added. “You can feel it (and definitely hear it) when we are competing.”
Even at practice, every member of the team watched the others perform their routines and cheered them on.
The team is led by Smith as well as Amanda Allen, the director of gymnastics, who founded the team in 2012. Despite having had to relinquish her title of head coach when she stopped working for Buford High School, Allen is integral to the team’s administration and organization, as well as coaching the athletes with Smith.
While the practice was clearly a fun and social experience for the gymnasts and coaches alike, there was also a clear intensity to the training.
Allen explained the structure of a meet and the scoring of events in between coaching sophomore Olivia Su as she repeatedly attempted a jump and twist move for part of her floor routine.
“Train your brain … think about what it is to turn one and a half times … feel the motion,” and, “you twisted in your roundoff,” were just some of the coaching tips she provided after the young athlete again propelled herself high into the air in a complex and visually stunning array of twists and flips usually only seen on TV every four years.
The coaches also stressed the importance of the team mentality and that each athlete contributes something special both in and out of competition.
“Bella, our senior … in terms of kind of stepping in as a last-year leader, she’s done a really good job,” Allen said. “Lily Black is a super hard worker … they all have something special about them.”
Both Smith and Allen highlighted junior Marissa Ashton, who placed second all around at the state meet last year and has already broken the school all around record earlier this season and scored a record-breaking two perfect 10s in the same meet.
“Marissa is exciting to watch! She does big gymnastics and makes it look easy,” Smith said. “Marissa is highly competitive and dedicated to her craft.”
Ashton has been participating in gymnastics for 15 years and estimated she trains about 18 hours a week. She said her best event is beam and her favorite is floor, so it’s fitting that these were the two events in which she scored her two momentous perfect 10s. She has already received offers from a number of colleges but has yet to commit to one.
The Wolves are three-time state champions in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and placed second in state in 2017 and 2021.
They hope to bring another championship performance to this year’s state meet, which will be held Wednesday, April 20, through Friday, April 22.
“We challenge our girls each week to be better than they were the week before and are always celebrating progress,” Smith said. “There is something special about this team — they are ready to put in the work to end up on top.”
FEATURED PHOTO: The 2021-2022 Buford High School gymnastics team. Photo by Lily McGregor Photography.