MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - West Virginia University gymnast Dayah Haley is as guilty as any other Mountaineer of having a “freshman moment.”
No moment was greater, or funnier, to the Pasadena, Md., native, then at the onset of her first collegiate meet on Jan. 8. Staring down the vault runway, focused on her routine and ready to open the Mountaineers’ season as the team’s first competitor, her composure was jolted by the Coliseum’s public address announcer, Dan Krotz.
“As soon as he said my name, a jolt of shock went through me,” she recalled through a smile. “I didn’t know we were announced before our routines! It was awesome though; I really liked hearing my name.”
Haley quickly shrugged off her moment of bewilderment, barreled down the runway and scored a solid 9.775, jump starting her Mountaineer career and helping push the squad toward a program best, season-opening score of 195.1.
Ranked No. 21 in the Southeast region on vault, Haley has yet to relinquish her leadoff spot, and through three career meets, it’s easy to see why – freshman moments aside, she is a hard gymnast to rattle.
“I like starting the team off; as a freshman, it makes me feel really good,” she explained. “Vault is my favorite event, too. I’ve always loved starting first on vault. It gets you up and going. It’s a strong event for me, so I enjoy starting off the team.”
“Dayah is so calm and relaxed; it doesn’t matter what situation we put her in, she remains steady and does her thing,” said first-year coach Jason Butts. “She is wise beyond her years. She always stays calm for her teammates, and they know she’s the right person to open our meets.”
Haley opened her Mountaineer career as a three-event gymnast, but after falls on beam and floor in the home opener, her first in competition as a level 10 gymnast, she was forced to reevaluate her routines in Cary Gym. After three weeks of practice, she now is an alternate on beam and floor heading in to today’s meet at the WVU Coliseum with George Washington and Towson; she will make her career debut on bars.
“We’ve changed so much just so I can be in the position to push on lineups,” she said. “My beam has changed three times since the first meet. I’ve put in new skills that I’ve never competed before; just this week, I added a new mount.
“My floor routine has changed, too. I have a whole new floor routine. It’s all about getting where you want to be, and clearly hard work goes with that, too. That’s all I’ve been trying to do – work hard and get back in to the lineups.”
Haley is used to pushing herself in the gym. A level 10 gymnast out of Maryland’s Hills Gymnastics, she says the tough love she received throughout her club career has prepared her well for the early obstacles she has faced as a Mountaineer.
“(At Hills), it was all about being the best you could be and striving to push yourself,” she recalled. “I feel like that’s what college gymnastics is all about – pushing yourself. In club, when you don’t compete for your team, you learn to always push to be No. 1. So far, I feel like I’ve done a good job of pushing myself.”
Haley’s tenacity was on full display recently. After a fall in her new floor routine during practice, Butts was ready to go a bit easy on his rookie and offered her the task of only completing her last pass; the general studies major refused her coach.
“I told him no right away; I had to hit that routine,” Haley said while gritting her teeth, the sting of the fall still clearly written all over her face. “It’s just about proving yourself all of the time. I know I can’t let up.”
“Dayah has worked so hard in the gym since that first week,” Butts explained. “Her confidence is still there. She went back that day and did another routine; none of the other gymnasts that messed up that day did one. I love the drive and determination inside of her.”
Confident and comfortable with her new routines, Haley’s biggest struggle these days is catching her breath – she is having a hard time believing that the No. 25-ranked Mountaineers are already on the cusp of their third home meet of the 2012 season.
“Everyone said that the season was going to fly by, but I never believed them,” she laughed. “I can’t believe it’s already our third meet, but I am happy to be back at the Coliseum. I love our home meets. Everything is so big and fun. My family is close by and comes in to town. Even though the season is going fast, I’m having a lot of fun.”
Adding to the fun for Haley is knowing that her teammates have confidence in her; she, in turn, is confident in each of her teammates, especially classmates Beth Deal and Lia Salzano.
“Every time I watch Beth compete her beam routine, I know she’s going to score well; it’s the same with Lia,” she said. “When any of us mess up, we can’t believe it. We expect to go in to the meets and compete and score well.
“I didn’t have as much confidence in my teammates in club. Here at WVU, I know everyone can go in to the gym and kick butt. It is a reassuring feeling. We all know that whoever is up there is competing for a reason. I have definitely bought in to this whole team.”
With her teammates behind her, and almost four years of collegiate gymnastics ahead of her, Haley is now focused on doing whatever she can, in whatever role she is given, to help push the Mountaineers toward higher scores and a bid to the national championships. After scoring 9.775 on vault in two of the first three meets of the season, she knows that the first step is a small, but significant, one.
“My goal right now is hitting a 9.8 vault,” she explained. “In practice, it’s all about improving that vault and doing what I can to get that score. There’s nothing to really pinpoint except that I need to go out there and try my hardest. From there, it’s all about trying to get that score you want and deserve.
“Each meet that I don’t hit my goal, I get more motivated to try harder in practice for the next meet. I don’t want to get complacent. Once I get that score, I’ll be happy, but then I’ll just return to the gym and push myself again.”
The Mountaineers welcome the Colonials and the Tigers today for a 1 p.m. meet. The team will honor retired coach Linda Burdette-Good and her 37-year career following the competition.
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