MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The video evidence was too much for Jaida Lawrence
The West Virginia University sophomore gymnast has landed thousands of vaults throughout her gymnastics career. A powerful, strong-willed athlete out of Rocky Hill, Conn., Lawrence’s vault – a spectacular yurchenko layout full – was the talk of the Big 12 Conference in 2013, as the newcomer tallied a score of 9.825 or better in all but her collegiate debut and matched her career-best mark of 9.9 four times en route to All-Big 12 First Team honors.
Therefore, when Lawrence earned the second-lowest score of her collegiate career at Maryland on Jan. 17, the pre-speech pathology and audiology major was confused. She was confident in the air – what had gone wrong?
“I wondered right away how I could have scored that low,” she said. “I was immediately concerned, so I went and watched the video. I noticed that when I took a step back on my landing, I also brought my other foot back to match that step. Instead, I should have brought the foot that I stepped with back to meet the front foot.
“I never did that last year. And after watching the video, I’ll make sure I never do that again.”
That commitment to perfection is an expected response from Lawrence, especially given that the vault that irked her scored 9.775, good enough for fifth place at UMD and the fourth-highest mark earned by any WVU gymnast on the event this year.
Lawrence’s season-opening vault was very much to her liking, as she registered a resounding stick at Kentucky on Jan. 10 and finished first in the event with a 9.85.
“I was so excited after that vault because I had never earned a stick that was that profound before,” she said. “With that vault, I knew as soon as my feet hit the mat that it was a good vault. I never expected to get a stick like that in the season opener. It was something I fought for all last year, and I knew I could do it, but I was shocked to get it in the first meet.”
Lawrence will rely on that vault – proof positive that she has mastered the stick – and her own video critiques to push her to consistent, high scores this year.
“We never had that much technology in club gymnastics,” the level 10 gymnast out of New England Gymnastics Express said. “I love it. I use video review on every event. I like to see myself doing the skills and then look at my corrections. I think I’m pretty good at determining what I’ve done wrong. I’m not saying I don’t need a coach, but I’m good accessing my own body awareness. Most times, the coaches are confirming what I already know.”
“Videos are making us coaches obsolete a bit,” laughed third-year Mountaineer coach Jason Butts. “The student-athletes have gotten used to watching their routines instantaneously in practice at Cary Gym, and we’ve seen their routines improve over the last year because of this benefit. It’s a huge advantage for us.
“I think Jaida is capable of the type of landing she did at Kentucky every time she vaults. I tell her that, too. I just remind her that she can’t try to land like that. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the gymnasts that try to stick, don’t. I tell her to stop thinking about it so much.”
Eight days removed from her vault against the Terrapins, Lawrence is through thinking about her extra step and has trained her sight on future success.
“I want to at least duplicate what I did last year,” the seven-time collegiate vault champion says. “I also want to add my one-and-a-half twist in down the road. I really want a Big 12 title, too; that’s really important to me.”
Lawrence has experience competing on a big stage, as she was a member of the 2011 Jamaican National Team and competed at the World Championships in Tokyo that same year. While she maintains that nerves rarely get the best of her, she’s excited that she gets the chance to fight for the conference vault title inside the WVU Coliseum on March 22.
“I can’t wait,” she enthused. “I feel like I didn’t have the best vault at last year’s championship (in Ames, Iowa). This year, I want it so bad, and I’ll do whatever it takes.”
Though Lawrence’s greatest point contribution comes on vault, she also is a steady, reliable uneven bars worker and has found a home as the event leadoff. Additionally, she is a crowd favorite on floor, an event she may compete for the first time this season at the Mountaineers’ 2014 home season opener tomorrow, at 3 p.m., against NC State at the WVU Coliseum. Currently, she is slotted at the lineup’s No. 6 position alongside junior Lia Salzano
A self-confessed nervous wreck throughout her rookie season, Lawrence is enthused to return to the WVU Coliseum a year older and a year wiser.
“I was terrified last year – I never got used to competing for a team until the Big 12 Championship,” she breathlessly explained. “I learned a lot last year. I know now that everyone is going to make a mistake at some point. As long as I do the best I can on the events I compete, then I’m doing the most I can for the team.
“Right now I’m competing vault and bars. I’m trying to get in on floor, too, but even if I just compete those two events all year to the best of my ability, then it will help my team tremendously. I can only do what I can do, and I have to have confidence that my teammates will do what they have to do. I think if we all focus on each individual event, and each girl that’s competing, the scores are going to start falling where they need to be.”
The Mountaineers’ (1-3) home season opener Sunday is a “Dollar Day,” with all tickets, hot dogs, popcorn and Coca-Colas available for $1 each. WVU students get in free with a valid WVU student I.D. Additionally, it is a “Poster Day,” and all fans may pick up a 2014 schedule poster featuring the Mountaineers. Lawrence and her teammates will be signing the posters following the meet at “Chalk Talk” in the Coliseum concourse.