After the Lindsey Ferris Invitational, hosted by George Washington on Jan. 13, sophomore Taylor Rakus of the women’s gymnastics team won the Coaches’ Choice Award of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference following a high scoring display on the balance beam in her first collegiate competition. The award is given weekly to the gymnast most deserving, as deemed by the coaches of the ECAC.
Rakus was competing for the first time since tearing her ACL at Pennsylvania’s State Championships her senior year in high school.
“When it happened I was devastated,” Rakus said. “As much as I tried to tell myself it was just a sprain, I knew my gymnastics career was going to be put on hold for quite a while. I was afraid I would never be able to recover fully and be the same gymnast as I once was.”
Women’s gymnastics coach Aaron Murphy was in attendance at the State Championships recruiting Rakus and witnessed the injury first-hand. However, Murphy was still confident that he wanted Rakus to be an Owl.
“[Rakus’] mom even asked me, ‘I’m guessing you don’t want her on your roster after getting hurt?’” Murphy said. “I said, ‘No I want Taylor Rakus on my team, and to come to Temple. She’ll have to sit out her freshman year but we’ll train her so hopefully she’ll be ready by sophomore year.’”
Rakus did have to sit out her entire freshman year as a medical redshirt, an experience that she described to be bitter-sweet.
“It was a little upsetting,” Rakus said. “Watching all my friends go out and compete and have so much fun but at the same time just watching taught me a lot of what to expect the following year. From sitting back and observing, I knew how hard I would have to work over the next year to break into a very talented lineup.”
Junior Heather Zaniewski also knows what it’s like to have to sit out because of injury for an extended period of time. The team captain had to sit out the majority of her sophomore season because of five fractures in her feet.
“I can relate to Taylor’s injury because of the time we both had to take off from gymnastics,” Zaniewski said. “It is very hard to go to practice every day and watch everyone train and compete without you. The time and energy it takes to get back to full gymnastics is also very tough.”
Rakus did make it back to full gymnastics form and made it into Murphy’s starting beam lineup. At the annual Lindsey Ferris Invite, Rakus nailed her routine and posted a 9.600. Her score helped lead Temple to a first place team score of 48.175 on the apparatus, beating out the University of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Cornell and host George Washington.
“When I saluted the judge for the first time in two years I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Rakus said. “Especially after hitting my routine, I was so happy and proud to be a part of the Temple gymnastics team and contributing to the first place finish the beam team achieved. I have never felt so overwhelmed with happiness and accomplishment in my life.”
“It takes a lot of focus, especially being in your first meet back from being out of the competitive realm for two years,” Murphy said. “It’s hard to come back and hit that [beam] event, and she did it really well. It was absolutely tremendous that she would get up there and score a 9.600 for her first score as a college athlete.”
Rakus herself said she was surprised to win the week’s ECAC Coaches’ Choice Award.
“I definitely did not expect to win any awards, especially not after my first-ever collegiate competition,” Rakus said. “I was and still am honored to have been given that award the first week of the season, it really shows that all my hard work did pay off and encourages me to keep working even harder for both myself and my team.”
Rakus continued her form with an even better showing on the beam at the team’s most recent meet at Pittsburgh this past Saturday, Jan. 19. She scored a 9.650, a half of a point higher than her award-winning performance the previous week.
Now, Rakus feels that her knee is no longer an issue.
“Because I was able to redshirt and use all of last year to rehab my knee back to full health, I rarely have problems with it,” Rakus said.
“I owe it all to my physical therapists and athletic trainers for helping me back to being 100 percent and could not have done it without them,” she added.
Samuel Matthews can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.