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Coach Tanya Chaplin remembers the moment well. With her Oregon State squad on the verge of making it to the 2018 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships, the unthinkable happened.
On the team’s final rotation of the NCAA Raleigh Regional, the Beavers came apart on the balance beam. After not registering a fall the entire season, they had two that day and it cost them a spot in the NCAA Championships.
Fast-forward one year and the Beavers are heading to the 2019 NCAA Championships, April 19-20 in Fort Worth, and Chaplin credits that painful moment in Raleigh as the catalyst for the surge they are currently on.
“It was a huge motivator. I mean no one felt good with what we did last year. That isn't what we usually do at a regional championship,” Chaplin said. “But you know what, it all happens for a reason. And had we not gone through that experience, I don't know that we'd be where we are right now. So that was the fuel that lit the fire this year. Made us really look at a lot of things.”
No. 15 Oregon State landed a spot in the NCAA Tournament this go-around after taking second place in the NCAA Corvallis Regional Final. Unlike the previous year, the team hit all 24 of its routines, which helped it edge out top-seeded Florida.
The Beavers have been led all year by a core group that includes Isis Lowery, Sabrina Gill, Maela Lazaro, Kaitlyn Yanish, Mary Jacobsen, and Halli Briscoe.
“We love each other with our whole heart and that's evident when we're out on the floor and we can see that,” Lowery said. “People have said, ‘Oregon State looks like they love each other so much!’ I was like, ‘We do.’ There's no faking it. There's pure genuine love for one another and I think that's what makes this team so special.”
But beyond the excitement and fun that Oregon State projects every time it takes the floor, there is a foundation of determination. Or as Lowery calls it, grit.
“We just have grit. We fight. Things aren't going our way, we don't give up, we keep going. We're just gritty little Beavers,” Lowery said. “If something happens that's not quite perfect, we just stay with it. We don’t try to let that show in our faces. If a teammate makes a mistake, whatever, we’re not on the side hating on them. We’re just like, ‘Hey, it's okay, we got your back, don't worry about it.’ I think not a lot of stuff phases this team. And we’re just really used to having to get up and keep going and constantly try to make ourselves better.”
According to Lowery, it’s that gritty determination that allowed them to rebound when things didn’t go the team’s way.
“I think that we don’t back down from challenges, we’re not one to shy away from, ‘Oh no, we made a mistake. What happens now?’” Lowery said. “We kind of fell off those rotations at Pac-12 and we came back and had a really awesome, like one of our highest road scores of this season. We just do not give up. When the going gets tough, we keep going. And that's what, I think, is so amazing about this team.”
Chaplin agrees that her squad has a level of mental toughness that has allowed them to take on every challenge that has confronted them.
“You know they will fight and they will scrap and they will do everything they can to make things happen as an individual and as a team both,” Chaplin said.
According to Chaplin, the team’s willingness to fight showed up early in the season.
“I think we saw that even the first meet out of the year when we went to Illinois and competed against University of Illinois, Kentucky, and Lindenwood,” Chaplin said. “That was a close battle all the way through, and they ended up on top. You know, it wasn't our best meet of the year, but they started to show that grit, that fight and that heart at that competition. So I think by coming out on top in that meet, and to have to fight for it, allowed us to go into each competition after that, and really have the fight all the way through the season.”
But in order for the Beavers to capture the programs first-ever national championship, they are going to have to fight their way through a deep and talented field that includes Oklahoma, UCLA, Georgia, LSU, Denver, Michigan, and Utah. OSU has the lowest regional score of all eight teams.
But according to Lowery, regionals was just a taste of what this team can do on the big stage.
“I think once you get nationals, it’s anyone's game. We’ve already shocked the country with our regional and it’s just like that wasn’t even what we’re capable of, we are capable of so much more,” Lowery said. “We hate saying that we’re the underdogs, but when you’re going into it as the eighth-ranked team, you are considered the underdogs,” Lowery said. “We weren’t expected to be out for it either, you know what I mean? We’ve got some stuff to do and we’re excited to show the country just what that is.”
Editors note: a previous version of this article misquoted Lowrey as saying "We're just gritty little divas."