In terms of numbers, the 2020 season was Southern Utah University gymnastics coach Scott Bauman’s best as a coach.
Bauman’s team posted a high score of 197.225 against Central Michigan University in early February, the highest score in over 30 years of SUU gymnastics. As the season wound down, the Flippin’ Birds looked poised to make a move into the top 15 of the NCAA gymnastics rankings.
COVID-19, however, had other ideas, as the final three meets were cancelled and with it, the final season of eligibility for five impactful senior seasons.
“We lost five of the best seniors we’ve ever had,” Bauman said. “Those guys were irreplaceable.”
Replacing upperclassmen is never easy, but it’s especially difficult when replacing the likes of Madison McBride, Megan McBride, Madison Loomis, Autumn Jorgensen and Becky Rozsa-Thompson, who were all key contributors last season. Bauman couldn’t stand the way the 2020 season ended for those seniors, but he quickly had to look ahead to the future.
Luckily for Bauman, the team is loaded with seasoned veterans who have stepped up in seasons past, including a battle-tested group of seniors.
Bauman said of his seniors, “Hannah Nipp and Morgan Alfaro look amazing. Molly Joswiakowski is continuing to improve and upgrade on every event. Alyssa Lidieu and McKenna DeFillipo are seasoned competitors and know what they’re doing.”
And right behind the five seniors stands a dominant junior class.
“Our junior class is one of the best junior classes in the country,” Bauman said. “They’re fierce.”
Headlined by junior all-around talent Karley McClain, Bauman is confident that his juniors can more than help fill the gap left by his 2020 season seniors.
Bauman also noted that the sophomore and freshman classes may also need to step up over the course of the season.
“The only way we are going to replace [the 2019 seniors’] routines is if the sophomore class comes into their own and steps into their roles and if some of these incoming freshmen can contribute at a high level at some of these events,” Bauman said.
The team voted for Alfaro as captain to lead in the gym this season. Alfaro was experiencing the best season of her collegiate career, setting career and season high vault scores of 9.925 vs University of Pittsburgh, before COVID-19 cancelled the remainder of the 2020 season. Earlier in her career, Alfaro overcame a serious back injury.
“The fact that I was voted captain from the team and from the coaches is a lot,” Alfaro admitted. “That they look up to me as a person inside and outside the gym means a lot to me. I’m going to be the best leader I can be.”
Few other gymnasts exhibit the confidence and aggression she does as she eyes down her target. That confidence and that aggression is exactly how Alfaro intends to lead her team this season.
“I’m going to be the best cheerleader this team has ever had,” Alfaro said. “I’m going to bring the confidence that I have in myself and in this team and it’s going to show.”
Bauman said that he couldn’t be more thrilled with his captain. He said of Alfaro “Morgan’s biggest value is her leadership. Her gymnastics are obviously incredible, but her biggest value is still in her leadership.”
While the 2021 schedule is more or less up in the air at this point in time, Bauman and Alfaro are confident the T-Birds will see action and continue to compete at a high level.
“The way things ended last year was just terrible,” Bauman said. “We were going to be a top 15 team last season, but we didn’t get our last three road trips and we didn’t get a chance to improve our position. We just want to compete and we want to compete in front of one of the best crowds in the country.”
Story by: Kelton Jacobsen
Photo by: Mitchell Quartz