Upper Arlington High School gymnastics coach Abigail Schmidt wants her athletes to regard practice and competitions as times to put aside the rest of their lives and focus purely on their sport.
"Whatever is going on in their lives, they can come here and these two hours are all about them," Schmidt said. "I reiterate it regularly. When they walk in the door, whatever else is going on outside the gym, you can deal with it later."
But try as she might, senior Tessia Vasquez can't completely shed the rest of her personality when she hits the mat.
"We always have to yell at (Vasquez) because she thinks everything can be simplified into an equation," sophomore Mary Kate Keethler said, laughing. "She thinks a lot. In gymnastics, a lot of it is knowing you have a certain skill and just going for it. But she thinks about it way too much. I'm like 'Tessia, you know you can do this skill. Just go for it.'"
Needing an outlet from intensive academic and volunteer schedules, Vasquez tried out for the team last season when it was suggested by a friend. She managed to fit gymnastics into other activities that include volunteering at Nationwide Children's Hospital's information desk and at COSI, being a tutor and peer collaborator at the high school and formerly serving as president of the Community Activists Club, an organization designed to help students earn the Presidential Service Award.
Vasquez plans to major in biomedical engineering in college and already has been accepted to Ohio State. She is awaiting word from Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins University.
"When I started (gymnastics), I couldn't even do a cartwheel. I was pretty bad," she said." Right now, I'm working back walkovers on the (balance) beam and I never thought I'd do something like that. I never would have imagined myself doing that a year ago. I thought I'd eat the mats, which I have done, a lot. I am the clumsiest person on the team by far. But I love it. I like falling, too, because it makes me have goals to work that much harder for."
Floor exercise is Vasquez's preferred event. She chose a tango song for her routine, reasoning that because its tempo is slower than the songs that most gymnasts prefer, she is constantly challenged to be more graceful.
"You have that whole minute-and-a-half (on the floor) to portray all the skills that you have," she said. "With everything else, you only have a few seconds."
UA has spent the entire season displaying team-wide improvement. According to Schmidt, the Golden Bears' 132.125 points in DeSales' Sweeney-Smith Invitational on Jan. 26 are the most they've scored in at least 13 seasons. Sophomore Emily Jones placed second on the uneven bars (9.075) and tied Grove City's Erin Maynard for second in the all-around (35.35) and Keethler placed third on vault (9.1), as UA finished second to Dublin Coffman (139.175) in the 14-team meet.
The Bears also have made a good showing in the nine-team Hilliard Invitational on Dec. 15, scoring 128 points to finish first ahead of runner-up Hilliard Darby (123.4), and in the 14-team McGee Invitational on Jan. 12, placing third (128.1) behind host Coffman (135.375) and Mason (133.575).
"Our goal last year was not to get last in events," Vasquez said. "Now, it's completely changed and it's helped our attitude as a whole. We work that much harder in the gym because states is actually a tangible goal for us this year."
The district meet is Feb. 23 at Worthington Kilbourne and the state meet is March 1 and 2 at Hilliard Bradley. Jones and Keethler were individual state qualifiers last season. The Bears haven't qualified for state as a team since 2003.