Alyssa Gardner goes through her routine at the Eastern National Championships, where the level 9 gymnast placed second in all-around. Photo courtesy of Kelly Gardner.
Alyssa Gardner has been a gymnast for 12 years. Her mother, Kelly, put her into the sport when she was 3-years-old. Halfway through the young gymnast’s career is when she became exposed to live meets that would ultimately shape her as an athlete.
“One special thing her mom did…we had an athlete who was a Penn State gymnast, and Alyssa’s mom would take the time to go down and see some of those meets,” Barbara Hover, owner of Hamburg Gymnastics Club, said about former her daughter, former Nittany Lion and Hamburg graduate, Danielle Hover.
“It put a lot of good gymnastics in her head, and when she came back, you could tell by second grade she took a little more serious look at everything she did. Her mom exposed her to a lot of good sports by taking her to see that.”
Nearing the end of her freshman year at Lake Shore, Gardner is beginning to make her own claim for a Division I scholarship.
Qualifying for the Eastern National Championships – a meet where the best gymnasts east of the Mississippi River compete annually –in 2013, Gardner did not fair too well. But in her return last month, the 14-year-old level 9 gymnast made huge strides.
Her all-around score of 36.850 placed her second at Easterns, held in Bradenton, FL from April 30-May 4.
She also placed third in floor exercises with a score of 9.325, fifth on the balance beam with a 9.15 and her 9.4 mark on vault put her in seventh.
“Last year, I didn’t think I was going to make it to Easterns at all,” said Gardner. “My scores have gone up a lot and everything seems easier. I got to work on my skills and polish them more.”
“Last year was when she kind of began to show that potential, as far as those higher levels,” added Hover. “She was in Easterns last year, but she didn’t do anything major. She went back this year, but went back with a lot more polished skills.”
Gardner’s accomplishments have come to no surprise, according to her coaches, Maria Mastrocicco and Melanie Janiga. Janiga, for instance, remembers fine qualities in Gardner’s work ethic during her very first team practice.
“She was definitely the youngest one in that class. We were teaching the floor teams and she was the only one at that age to still remember it all. All the other kids were dismissed at practice and she was there still learning it. That stood out for me,” noted Janiga.
“’It’s time to go home. Why aren’t you going home?’ And she’s just taking her time, going through her routine. And she remembered everything.”
Gardner qualified for Easterns from her performance at the 2014 Region 6 Championship in Springfield, MA in April.
Her 9.4 on vault gave her second place, while she placed third on balance beam (9.125) and all-around (36.175).
“I just see such a huge improvement,” said Mastrocicco. “In my opinion, she is a very, very hard work. She absolutely loves gymnastics. She loves the thrill of ding the skills.”
“I call her the Energizer Bunny because she keeps going and going. She’s just a little different because she loves it so much, which makes it really enjoyable for me to work with her.”
Gardner’s memorable year began back in March at the New York State Championships held in Brockport.
She won the state title in vault (9.2) and beam (9.375), as well as the all-around crown with a score of 36.525.
She took second on uneven bars and floor.
Her next step is to try to make it to level 10, the only level that can compete at the national meet.
Gardner may run into some tough times as she first gets used to competing as a level 10 gymnast, but Lake Shore freshman will have three years to sharpen her skills at that level.
Gardner has aspirations to become a gymnast on the collegiate level once she graduates high school. According to her coaches, a scholarship to a Division I level school is not out of Gardner’s reach at all, at the pace the young gymnast is progressing, practicing six times a week for up to four hours a day.
And maybe someday soon, Gardner will be the one a 7-year-old girl will aspire to be like, just as she once did during her travels to Penn State.
“It’s obvious she has a goal, and she’s obviously meeting them,” Hover said about Gardner’s aspirations at a Division I scholarship.
“Next year will be a challenge, but she has three years at level 10 to keep improving because she has a far goal of competing in college.”