Junior gymnast wraps up season with eighth place

Heather Zaniewski places eighth at U.S. Gymnastics National Championship.

In what was the last competition for women’s gymnastics 2013 season, junior team captain Heather Zaniewski was the lone Owl that qualified for the individual event finals at the United States Gymnastics National Championship hosted by Centenary College on Sunday, April 14. Zaniewski finished in a tie for eighth place.

“I was extremely happy,” Zaniewski said. “I came into college not even thinking that I would even touch the bars to compete and with [women’s coach Aaron Murphy’s] I’ve gotten a lot better since my freshman year. So I just thank him because he got me to where I am, so I was just happy and thankful to be in the position that I was today.”

“[Zaniewski] got up there and she did her first three release moves right on point, it was just amazing,” Murphy said. “I gave her a hug and I told her that I was very proud of her and she seemed very proud of herself which means even more.”

Zaniewski posted a 9.750 on the apparatus. Of the 12 gymnasts who qualified for the uneven parallel bars final, Zaniewski was the last to do her routine, something that Murphy said would help her performance.

“She was actually drawn as last up,” Murphy said. “Which is a great spot to be in because she gets to watch everyone else go in front of her, so she watched 11 girls do their bar routine, got to see all of their scores, and as an athlete in your head you basically go, ‘Alright, that’s what I have to do, I have to match that and be that good.’”

However, Zaniewski said the opposite.

“I was really, really nervous before I actually went on because I was the last one to go in the entire meet,” Zaniewski said. “So I had to wait and watch everybody else, and up until that point nobody had fallen so it was a really competitive atmosphere.”

What helped ease Zaniewski’s nerves was the sight of her teammates cheering her on from the nearby stands, she said.

“I actually relaxed because I saw the rest of my teammates up on the stands,” Zaniewski said. “I kind of relaxed and just went into auto-pilot when I was doing my routine, then I landed and was just extremely happy.”

Senior Jean Alban was in the stands cheering on her teammate, and explained the influence that their team unity has on each other.

“I really think that we are each other’s backbone,” Alban said. “And I think that [Zaniewski] being the only one to make finals and having her teammates there standing really close to her helped her calm her nerves and it made her feel that we were right behind her the whole time.”

Alban added: “She finished a great routine all the way through, so I think we do have an impact on each other. Our vibes give off a good aura.”

With the 2013 season now complete, Murphy reflected on his team’s season and was very pleased with the results.

“It was tremendous,” Murphy said. “The ups and downs that we had with some of the season ending injuries that some of the girls had, our team really pulled through and truthfully only climbed from the start of the season to the end of the season.”

“Our score consistently went up and it got better each weekend, so that really showed that our team can come together and push through any obstacle that was in our way,” he added.

Looking forward to next season, Murphy will return 20 of his 23 gymnasts. The reigning Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year will look to get the most out of his returning gymnasts.

Returning for a fifth season, Alban said that next year’s team has the potential to be better than this year’s.

“I have really good feelings for next year and I think we are going to be just as good or even better,” Alban said. “I really think that we are going to be top three in our conference. I honestly and truthfully can say that because I feel it.”

Samuel Matthews can be reached at samuel.matthews@temple.edu.

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