MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - Chest bumping – it’s a funny practice. Known to motivate football and basketball players alike, the chest bump has found its way on to the floor at every West Virginia University gymnastics meet this season, and the No. 24-ranked Mountaineers have never competed better.
“I think it’s a way for us to stay loose in between routines,” laughed junior Kaylyn Millick. “Honestly, we’re just that confident this year. We thrive in a fun atmosphere, and the chest bumps allow us to have that much more fun.”
Millick, a transfer out of Eastern Michigan in the midst of her second season at WVU, is one of the squad’s biggest proponents of the chest bump, especially when she and her teammates are competing on the floor exercise. The Washington, Pa., native says the squad’s confidence, at an all-time high she believes, plays a large role in the Mountaineers’ loose attitude.
“The team used to be a little more uptight, but this year’s group is so great that we can make it fun every day,” Millick said. “We can throw in the ’10’ cheers and the chest bumps because everyone is so into it.”
The Mountaineer confidence is contagious, and Millick acknowledges that it starts from the top, with first-year coach Jason Butts, trickles down to senior leaders Tina Maloney and Nicole Roach and fuels the freshmen.
“Jason has done a really good job of making sure everyone is communicating on all points,” she expanded. “We do a lot of communicating in the locker room. If there is ever a problem, we clear it out. I think with Tina and Nicole leading us, and the freshmen buying in to the team, we’ve all become a lot closer. There’s that confidence that we can have a little bit of fun.”
Yet is was self-confidence, not team confidence, that Millick was most concerned with over this past summer. Though she was dynamic throughout her first WVU season, earning 402.8 points in 13 meets, five as an all-around competitor, hiccups on bars and beam near the end of the year prompted the nursing major to question her skill set.
Summer days spent in Cary Gym and pared-down routines appeared to have cured Millick of her weariness. Through five meets, she owns season averages of 9.775 and 9.685 on beam and bars, respectively. She ranks a team-best No. 2 in the East Atlantic Gymnastics League, No. 14 in the Southeast region, on beam, and has scored a career-high 9.775 on bars three times.
“I competed with the wrong mindset last season,” she succinctly explained. “Every time I competed beam, I was a little nervous. We switched things up a little to make me more confident. Last year, I did a triple-flight. This year, I’m doing a double-flight. That confidence, and doing my routines over and over again, has really helped with my consistency.”
The Mountaineers are enjoying success on beam this season, too. Despite two falls at Michigan last week, WVU has hit 27-of-30 routines and is currently ranked No. 23 nationally with a 48.415 season average; the lineup has not ranked outside of the Top 25 all year.
Millick believes first-year assistant coach Bridget Boyd deserves a lot of the credit for the squad’s early improvement.
“I think everyone has seen our confidence grow this season on beam; we definitely did not have that confidence last year,” she said, again referencing the team’s new assurance in itself and its routines. “Bridget’s assignments are different. There are more consequences if we don’t hit. I think that gives us more motivation to hit, and that has helped our consistency. We do so many of those drills in Cary Gym that it just comes naturally for us in meets.”
One event Millick never lacks confidence on is floor. A part of the team’s lineup in all 13 meets last season, she earned six scores of 9.8 or better, including a career-high 9.9, the squad’s top individual floor score of the season. She capped off the year with a team best, fifth- place finish at the NCAA Southeast Regional Championships, scoring 9.85 and falling just short of an individual national championships qualification.
This season has been no different, as she has thrived in the lineup’s opening spot, scoring 9.8 or better each time she has competed and earning two podium finishes.
“Competing for me is all about confidence, and I know every time that I’m going to hit my floor routine,” she said. “I love to dance and to perform, and I’ve competed my tumbling passes for so long now that I have confidence in them. It’s just something that clicks with me.
“I do get nervous sometimes, but as soon as my music starts, it’s just a fun atmosphere. I love especially competing that routine at home – everyone gets into it. We’re on the sidelines, doing each others’ routines; I can’t help but laugh during my routine!”
Millick reiterates that the confidence and the fun this year’s Mountaineer squad possesses, especially on floor, give WVU an edge.
“We have the skills that teams like Florida and Georgia have, so we’re right there with the top teams,” she said of the No. 11-ranked WVU floor lineup. “I also think we have a little more fun than other teams do, and I think that’s an advantage. Our team takes so much pride in having fun on floor. It comes easy for us, and that’s put us in the Top 10 nationally. It’s not because we’ve worked any harder than the other teams; it’s because of our confidence and the fun atmosphere.”
The Mountaineers have a true chance to prove they belong in the nation’s Top 15 today, as they play host to No. 11 Ohio State, No. 13 Auburn and Ball State at 2 p.m., at the WVU Coliseum.
“I think we’re going to stay focused on ourselves, but I am anxious to see how we match up,” explained Millick. “I do think we’re a Top 15 team. We are just as good as those two teams, and I’m excited to see if we can hit 24-for-24 routines. I think it’s going to be a test for us, but I think we can hang along with them.
“We’re going to go out there the same way we do every meet. Whatever team is lined up across from us, we’re just going to go out there and do what we know how to do.”
No matter the results, the Mountaineers will continue to cheer each other on, chest bump in between floor routines and remain cool and confident.
“There aren’t any questions with this team this year,” Millick concluded. “That support is always going to be behind you, and it makes a difference. I’m 100 percent confident in all of my teammates.”
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