Rejuvenated gymnastics team dazzles in '14

Ryder sisters guide GVSU to victory in meet at Eastern

By Jay Bushen | 3/16/14 6:48pm


Courtesy / Sarah Emens

Uncertainty surrounded future aspirations of the Grand Valley State University club gymnastics team in the offseason; its training facility went out of business and its membership was down to just three.

“It was a big concern,” GVSU senior Bethany Ryder said. “We knew there wasn’t going to be a lot of returning people, and we really had no idea how many we could get.”

Ryder, sophomore president Amy Burke and classmate Kahley Emens were on track to be the only remaining participants. The program’s future would come down to their dedication.

Fortunately, the trio had plenty of it. They sent out mass emails to club and high school teams across the state to recruit who they could and, one by one, came up with a capable roster.

Still, the team needed a gym to practice in as Flights Gymnastics was no longer an option. The 27-minute carpool to Grand Rapids Gymnastics three times a week would test their collective drive, but the new-look Lakers were willing to make it.

“It’s really a big deal to them,” coach Amy Sturrus said.

The program proved just that at its first meet of the 2014 campaign on Feb. 22 to about 30 teams at the University of Illinois.

GVSU freshman Nicole Lasecki finished second in the all-around in a field of more than 100, and the Lakers placed second overall.

“I was just really impressed with the team dynamic,” Sturrus said. “That’s the most fun we’ve had in six years.”

The fun-loving squad of mostly first-year athletes (one senior, two sophomores, six freshmen) certainly appears to have some serious talent.

It may be inexperienced at the college level, but most members have been competing for years.

Freshman Morgan Ryder said she has been performing since the age of three, and part of the reason she came to GVSU was for an opportunity to participate alongside her sister, Bethany.

“We’ve been in the gym together our entire lives,” Morgan said. “That’s what really helped us become closer as sisters and as friends later in life. We trained together, but we never actually competed together because she was older.

“She’s my role model.”

The Ryder sisters proved to be a dynamic duo at Eastern Michigan University’s March Madness Meet on March 9 against teams like EMU and the University of Michigan.

Morgan came home with a victory in the all-around in a field of about 80 and also placed second on vault behind just one performer: her big sister.

“We looked over to our mom; she was just smiling,” Morgan said.

Lasecki placed third in the event for a 1-2-3 Laker sweep on the podium.

The team also received a victory from Emens in balance beam with a 9.6, while Morgan Ryder took third with a 9.4.

Freshman Austin Tucker, the team’s first-ever male athlete, placed third in the all-around — and GVSU came home with a victory as a team, edging Michigan and Miami University.

The Lakers have had success this season because of their ability to stay relaxed at competitions. Their exuberance is often on full display with their knack for supporting not only their teammates, but also the gymnasts they compete against.

“The chemistry at practice and at meets is on a whole new level,” Bethany Ryder said. “People tell us we’re crazy because we cheer for other teams. We’re just really able to motivate each other and train with a purpose.

“I’m so proud of this team. They’ve all astounded me this year with their dedication.”

The Lakers will compete next from April 3 to April 5 at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Club (NAIGC) Nationals at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tenn. The team is also scheduling a fundraiser for April 12 at Grand Rapids Gymnastics (1601 Galbraith Avenue SE). There will be a discount for GVSU students at the door.

Uncertainty, it seems, is certainly a thing of the past for the promising Lakers.

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