MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As junior Chelsea Goldschrafe tells it, the Mountaineers’ victory at the 2012 East Atlantic Gymnastics League (EAGL) Championship, in Pittsburgh was the most thrilling moment she has experienced in a West Virginia University gymnastics leotard.
“Unreal,” the Franklin Lakes, N.J., native began. “We got home to Morgantown and then we fully realized that we won EAGLs. It was insane. It was probably one of the most fun meets that I’ve ever been a part of. The energy and the fans were surreal. I didn’t have a voice at the end of the meet; that is how crazy it was. We were exhausted after the meet, but it was awesome.”
The Mountaineers’ victory, the squad’s league-best seventh title and first since 2008, was a culmination of a year-long goal that became the team’s motto – win one more.
“We weren’t going to let our seniors (Tina Maloney and Nicole Roach) graduate without an EAGL ring,” explained Goldschrafe. “I wanted a ring, too! We all wanted the win, and we knew that we had it in ourselves to win the championship. The fact that we battled through the differentiation in scores throughout this season, we knew we could win any meet we hit. That was the best mentality we could compete under.”
WVU brought the EAGL trophy back to Morgantown one last time with a season-best 196.475 score. Wins over the league’s seven teams pushed the squad’s record to 21-5, giving WVU its first 20-win season since 2008. Additionally, with a 196.475-196.0 victory over No. 20-ranked NC State, the team pegged to walk away with the EAGL title, the Mountaineers improved to 5-4 this season over ranked opponents.
Yet, with all it accomplished at the league championship on March 24, the team understands that the win was just one step toward the top of its pyramid of goals for the 2012 season. Next on the list? A bid to the NCAA National Championships.
The Mountaineers can successfully complete their second team goal this weekend, as they are set to compete as the No. 5 seed at the NCAA Auburn Regional Championships on Saturday, April 7, at 7 p.m. inside Auburn Arena.
All season long, each gymnast has maintained that the top of the team’s pyramid of goals is a trip to the NCAA Championships. WVU has only previously competed in three meets and has not returned to the championship since 2000.
“We’re motivated to do better than we did at EAGLs,” Goldschrafe said. “We had three season highs (vault, bars, floor) in the last meet. This meet, we’re pushing for four. We did not have a perfect meet two weeks ago. We have worked on fixing the little things over the last 10 days. We’re excited to show off our routines outside of EAGL competition and show everyone that we are just as good as them, if not better.”
First-year Mountaineer coach Jason Butts believes his team is ready to prove its worth this weekend.
“Why not us? I wanted this team to believe that it is just as good as any other team out there, and everyone has accepted that belief,” he said. “We may not be a Super Six team yet, but we’re a nationals team. We have a lot of talent on this team and a lot of hard workers. We have to talk about it and believe it before we’re ever going to get there.”
Goldschrafe has been proving herself all season. Once just a beam and floor specialist, she has evolved into a competent all-arounder. Though most meets she competes on each event but bars, her improvement has proven invaluable.
“I’m just happy I have a 10.0 start value for my bars routine,” she laughed. “I didn’t start swinging bars this well until I got to WVU. I can’t really ask for anything more than I’ve done. Every time I compete, I get better.”
Goldschrafe had her best all-around meet at New Hampshire on Feb. 25. The Mountaineers were a bit shaky, and though the squad dropped a 195.75-194.225 decision to the Wildcats, their lone EAGL loss of the season, Goldschrafe filled in at the last minute on bars and hit for a career-best 39.05, good enough for second place.
“That was definitely a monkey off my back,” she said of her first career 39.0-plus score. “It was one of my goals since my freshman season. I just wanted to hit all four events and for those scores to help my team. The fact that the team didn’t have its greatest meet that night, it actually meant more to me to hit all four events and help out. The 39.0 mark didn’t hit me until after the meet.”
“Chelsea has done a great job this year of coming into each meet ready to contribute, no matter what her role she is given,” Butts said. “She does whatever the coaches ask of her, and I know she is going to give 150 percent each meet. I think she’s just thankful that she’s competing, and she wants to do whatever she can for the team. Chelsea is very team-focused and has grown into that role of not thinking about herself during competition and practice.”
Teamwork and experience should play in the Mountaineers’ favor this weekend. Though WVU will face four nationally ranked teams, including No. 6 Georgia and No. 7 Oregon State, the squad is not fazed, having already compiled its winning record against ranked opponents. Additionally, the Mountaineers are 2-1 against teams from the Southeastern Conference (SEC), including an upset 195.175-193.65 victory over then-No. 13 Auburn on Feb. 12, and competed in an SEC arena in its 196.85-194.9 loss at No. 10 LSU on March 16.
“I love competing in an SEC atmosphere,” Goldschrafe enthused. “Competing at LSU was awesome this year. The energy was at another level. We thrive off a lot of energy, so everyone is looking forward to that type of atmosphere this weekend. Also, there will be six teams competing, so I think we can feed off our competition, too.
“I think that since we have had those experiences, everyone is ready. We’re not going to concentrate on anything else – we’re determined to focus on ourselves.”
The Mountaineers will be tested early, as they begin the meet on beam. The team opened on beam only once this year, at Denver on March 3. Though the squad scored 48.425, its third-worst mark of the season, it persevered and powered through to upsets over the No. 19 Pioneers and No. 13 Missouri. WVU also earned a victory against Western Michigan.
“Everyone falters on beam, but we kept our energy up throughout the whole meet at Denver and were able to walk away with three wins,” Goldschrafe said. “We just kept fighting the whole way. As long as we keep fighting, we are just as good as any other team. We showed two Top 20 teams that night that even if we fall, we’re still going to fight and give ourselves a chance to come out on top. I hope we don’t fall, but our history should be a confidence boost for everyone.”
“We have been that come-from-behind team all season,” concluded Butts. “I think the team likes the underdog role. I want people to be worried about us. We keep knocking it out of the park, and we just need to do it one more time. The two most successful teams this weekend will be the two teams that fight until the end, and I believe we can be one of those teams.”
No matter what happens this weekend, Goldschrafe is proud of what her team has already accomplished this season.
“This is the first year that I have been a part of this team achieving a goal together,” she explained. “We had our ups and downs along the way, but everyone kept on the path that would lead us to that goal. To be able to achieve it was awesome.”