Women’s college gymnastics is a unique sport. It’s a rarity in college sports that the athletes will arrive on campus having already competed at the highest level if they are ever going to do so. In most cases, they will move on to a regular life outside the world of gymnastics as soon as college is over. For one Arizona GymCat, that had already happened.
Redshirt senior Haylie Hendrickson took part in senior day ceremonies last year. She was working as an inbound receptionist at a local orthopedics office building a résumé to continue school. Her ultimate goal is to become a physician’s assistant.
Then came the calls. The first one was to her mother. Head coach John Court had some extra scholarship money, and he wanted to feel out the situation. Was Hendrickson up to a return? Her mother’s tears of joy were enough to convince Court that Hendrickson was up to it.
As for the gymnast herself, the reaction was equally as emotional.
“She obviously thought she was in trouble when I called her back to the office in the middle of the summer,” Court joked. “But if you’re a graduate, you really can’t be in any trouble. She didn’t know what it was.”
Hendrickson had already gotten rid of her gymnastics gear, but that didn’t matter. She jumped at the chance to compete again.
“I just started tearing up,” she said.
Court says that Hendrickson offers the GymCats a strong anchor on the balance beam where she has a career best of 9.875. She will also compete uneven parallel bars, but she won’t be in the rotation for floor exercise.
“She’s 23,” Court said in way of explanation.
In addition to her scores, the coach is also pleased to have her leadership back.
“Haylie helps us be more connected,” he said. “And that’s not just the competitive point. She’s really good as far as working with the other athletes going through their experiences.”
With the experience of athletes like Hendrickson and the new skills brought by the freshmen, both coach and athlete hope to return to the postseason again this year. After a one-year absence in 2018, they were back as a team last season.
The 2019 postseason was the first for a new system that has fewer regional sites than in previous years. The regionals open with a de facto play-in meet between the bottom two teams. The GymCats were in that play-in last season where they lost to Iowa.
Court said that he prefers having more regional sites, but Hendrickson was supportive of the intent behind the changes.
“I thought the changes were interesting, but it was a good concept to try to get new teams into finals like Oregon State,” she said. “It was really, really cool to see them make it that far. It gives the underdogs a chance instead of having the same people over and over, having it be really predictable. I think it’s awesome, giving us a good chance.”
As a team, the GymCats hope to avoid the play-in meets this season, but Court also hopes to get his individual gymnasts more recognition.
“We want to get back to the Top 25,” he said. “That’s our goal, but I think we’re pushing towards it and I think that’s a realistic goal. We all think it’s a realistic goal for this roster. So athletically that’s it, but also to get more recognition for our athletes. We want those Gymnast of the Week awards. In the Pac-12 awards at the end of the year, for Arizona to be on those plaques.”
The first step towards those goals will happen in the season opener Friday, Jan. 3. The GymCats travel to Baton Rouge to face Louisiana State University.
Hendrickson and her teammates will return to Tucson for the home opener on Jan. 11 in a quad meet at McKale Center.
How to watch
The meet against LSU will be available on SEC Network Plus. It will get underway at 6:15 p.m. MST at the Maravich Center in Baton Rouge.