If anyone can leapfrog, leave it to the athleticism of a gymnast.
Tagged as the No. 5 seed for Saturday's Auburn Regional, the West Virginia University gymnastics team is looking to secure one of two qualifying berths for the national championships. The Mountaineers must contend with the likes of Georgia, Oregon State, Auburn, Michigan and Michigan State. With the exception of Michigan State, the other four schools are seeded higher than WVU.
Parkersburg South graduate Beth Deal is a freshman walk-on who will be competing in the beam for the Mountaineers at Auburn Arena - the same event she won outright as her team captured the East Atlantic Gymnastics League title nearly two weeks ago in Pittsburgh.
"Coming off that win at EAGLs was a huge confidence booster and we know we can hang with teams like Georgia and Oregon State," Deal said.
Deal's confidence level is soaring since she posted a career-best 9.9 on the beam at the EAGL Championships.
"That was the most calm I've been all season," Deal said. "I wasn't nervous and I don't know why. The team had so much confidence in me and I did what I needed to do."
Deal has made the transition from training with Gymniks Gymnastics to becoming a valuable member of the WVU gymnastics family. She wouldn't trade the experience for anything else.
"I knew from the first time I stepped foot in the gym in August, it just felt right," Deal said.
Her career at the Division I level began in ideal fashion this past January. Two days after WVU competed in a home meet with Penn State and Maryland, Deal was recognized as the EAGL Rookie for the Week.
"I knew they did stuff like that, but I had no idea I was going to get the award," Deal said. "That was pretty cool."
Deal's biggest fan was on hand on to witness the performance. It just so happens to be her mother, Sherri Bunner, who has missed just one meet during Deal's entire career as a gymnast.
"It really helps having her in the crowd," Deal said. "It's a sense of security when you hear her cheers."
First-year coach Jason Butts also has made an impact with Deal's progression as well as with the rest of the WVU members. Butts took over after Parkersburg native Linda Burdette-Good retired last April after guiding the Mountaineers for 37 seasons.
"Jason is so encouraging and motivating," said Deal, who is majoring in exercise physiology. "He tells us to keep fighting no matter what adversity we are facing. That's how we got the win at EAGLs."
In regards to Saturday's regional field, WVU has lost to Michigan but defeated Auburn. The Mountaineers last qualified for nationals as a team in 2000.
"We've had such a great year, and now we go into regionals looking to prove to everyone that we can hang with the top schools and beat them," Deal said.
Contact Kerry Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org