Gymnasts win individual championships


Parker Olsen, Sports Editor

In Ithaca, New York the UW-Whitewater gymnastics team finished fifth place at the national meet March 26. The team has not placed lower than fifth at the national competition since first competing in the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association Championship in 2007. The performance included two individual national championships from All-American Emily North in the All-Around and Sarah Knetzke in Beam. 

Both North and Knetzke had career high scores in their championship efforts. After no national meet had been held for the last two years due to the pandemic, the Warhawks were overjoyed to be back in action and placing high at the meet. 

“We have worked our butts off in the gym and out of the gym, just grinding. Then the past two years not being able to compete I think really fueled us to keep going and keep pushing. I am so proud of us and the progress that we made, coming back and doing what we did,” North said.

The national meet was a new experience for many on the gymnastics team as only the three seniors had been to nationals before, typically everyone but the freshman on the team have gone to nationals previously. With two years of no national meet, nerves could have been high, but the senior North was able to relax.

“It was definitely nerve racking, you know? The thought in my head of oh my gosh it’s nationals and it is my last ever competition was in my head. But I just tried to focus on my team and I just prayed throughout the whole meet that I would have peace,” North said.

Both North and Knetzke felt incredibly grateful to have won national titles after all their hard work. They are both proud of their team’s accomplishment of finishing fifth at the meet and believe that the “purple circle” has a strong bond that will allow for even greater success in the future. 

The bond that the team had was clear when asked about the other achieving the ultimate goal of winning a national title. Both had nothing but praise for the other.

“I am so proud of Sarah, there is no one more deserving than her,” North said. “She worked her butt off and she got there. I am just so happy for her.”

“She is hands down a staple on our team. She would always come and talk to me and give me a pep talk on beam. Right before I’d go to compete she’d come up to me and calm me down,” Knetzke said. “She had a huge voice on the team, she competed at every event. Basically our MVP honestly, she was just really such a good leader.”

For Knetzke, winning her own national title was a little extra special after not competing as a freshman last season. She also went through rehab during the season after suffering a broken tibia in December. After being cleared just fifteen minutes before her first competition of the season, she said she had to push through pain to perform.

“I didn’t even get to compete until our last home regular season meet,” said Knetzke. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to compete for this entire season. So once I found out I was going to get that opportunity and the coaches made that calendar for me to make a comeback and they told me they wanted me to compete at that last home regular season meet. I was like wow, I couldn’t believe it but I did everything I could, all the rehab I could do and mentaly prepare myself, practicing as hard as I could and it paid off.”

Both described their individual national championships as the result of team effort, an effort from family, coaches and teammates. Knetzke felt her dad had a huge effect on her, especially as she worked through her rehab.

“He kept telling me to follow your dreams, follow what you love. And I think especially after getting hurt he was the one telling me that if you get that opportunity you have to run with it and take it, don’t let anything stop you because you don’t want to look back with regret,” Knetzke said.

As the two look forward, two very different paths await. North will graduate in May before she returns to her home in Oklahoma where she plans to attend veterinary school. As for the sophomore, Knetzke plans to continue her rehab and regain lost strength so she can make another comeback, this time a return to competing in the Floor Routine. 

The team’s fifth place finish was the third best finish by a WIAC team at the meet, UW-Oshkosh placed first and UW-La Crosse finished third. In addition to the two national champions, the Warhawks saw top three finishes in individual events from Kara Welsh, Faith Mylin, and Kelsey Kollhoff who tied for second behind Knetzke. Lauren Globe and Rachel Lewellen also had top eight finishes, which secured the Warhawks seven All-American honors.