MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Throughout the 2012 preseason, the West Virginia University gymnastics team and staff will periodically check in with Mountaineer fans, providing updates on the progress made in Cary Gym and the weight room. The team also will share stories from its multiple team-bonding trips and activities.
Tumblers’ Tales is now featuring the Mountaineer newcomers, with the 16th entry centering on sophomore transfer Erica Smith. The Blue Springs, Mo., native joins the Mountaineers after one year at the University of Central Missouri.
A five-year level 10 gymnast out of Eagles Gymnastics, Smith is a former junior international elite gymnast and a two-time Junior Olympics National Championships competitor. Among her many accomplishments, Smith placed fifth in the all-around at the 2008 Junior Olympics National Championships; she also placed fourth on beam and fifth on bars.
Previously recruited by Florida, the coaches believe Smith could successfully compete each event, with the potential to see time on three events this season.
MSNsportsNet.com: You had a year away from gymnastics. How does it feel to be back in the gym and competing?
Erica Smith: I absolutely love competing, so it’s been great coming back. Everyone made my transition back to the gym really easy. Everyone is pushing and helping me get back to competition shape.
This is your first season competing with a team – do you like being a part of a group?
I love it. I’m a people person, so I really enjoy having a big group around me.
Do you see part of your role with this team as an energizer? Do you enjoy rallying your teammates?
Yes! I like playing that role, too. I like to have fun, and I see competing as fun. I don’t really stress too much, and I’m not one to get nervous. I just like to have fun, and I think being lighthearted helps the team, too.
When you competed beam at the Gold-Blue scrimmage, you seemed very cool and calm. Is that how you approach all of your routines?
Yes. Coach Butts told all of us before the meet that it wasn’t supposed to be a stressful event. We were supposed to just go out there, compete and have fun. That’s also how I viewed the meet.
How do you remain calm in competition?
I think I’m so calm because of my past elite experiences. Having reached the podium and competed in front of large crowds at big meets, I’ve learned to just have fun with gymnastics. If you fall, you fall. If it doesn’t go the way you want, then you just have to do better the next time. There’s always a next time.
Can you describe your time as a junior international elite gymnast?
I wouldn’t say it was hard; I would say it was a different pace of life. You have to put in a lot more effort. It definitely taught me self-discipline and self-motivation, and that helps me now. In the gym, the coaches rely on us to push ourselves to work harder.
Do those time management skills you learned help you now as a college student-athlete?
Yes. I think because I had last year to just focus on school, I still have that ‘books first’ mentality in me. Now, I’ve just added gymnastics to that routine. There was a moment of struggle, but I’m getting used to it.
How have you adjusted to living in West Virginia?
It wasn’t too hard of an adjustment! I feel like it’s not as cold here as it is in Missouri, and I like that. I’m not used to all of the mountains and the hills because it’s flat at home. Everything else has been really easy to adjust to.
Do you enjoy the bigger setting here at WVU compared to your last school?
I think I’m a big-school person. I didn’t like the small-school setting – I knew too many people and felt like I saw the same people every day. Here at WVU, I get to meet new people all of the time.
The football games this fall were so much fun because there were so many people and fans at each game. I really feel like I fit in here.
What are you looking forward to this season?
I’m looking forward to competing again. I haven’t competed in two years, so being able to compete with the team is really exciting.
What events are you hoping to compete this year?
I really want to do beam and bars. I’m going to try to get on floor, too.
What does being a Mountaineer mean to you?
Pride. I feel like everyone has a lot of pride at WVU. Everyone is really nice, and I really love it here. There’s pride and joy in this team, and there’s pride and joy that surround this school.
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