Gabryel Wilson Determined To Make Last JO Nationals Count

Growing up, Gabryel Wilson didn't know what college gymnastics was. When she began the sport, it was simply what she did after school. Then, like many young gymnasts, the Olympics were her dream. But things changed when colleges started paying attention to her.

"It was then that I realized [NCAA gymnastics] was a real path that I could take," Wilson said.

Wilson was in eighth grade when she received her first letter from a college. It was also around that time when college coaches began coming to her gym to see her practice. In the years to come, Wilson would begin visiting colleges, which is what really caught her interest.

"Once I started going on visits, I saw how fun college gymnastics was, and I wanted to be part of it," the Olympia gymnast said.

Wilson committed to the University of Michigan and signed her letter of intent on November 15, 2018. She's set to join the team this fall. But before she begins her NCAA career, she'll finish her Junior Olympic career at the 2019 J.O. National Championships on May 18-19.

Last year at J.O. Nationals, she won the Senior C all-around title. After a stellar 2018-2019 season, she's set for another great nationals performance. Wilson is the senior B Michigan state champion in the all-around and on vault and beam. She's also the senior E Region 5 champion in the all-around and on vault, bars, and floor. At regionals, she was second on beam, and at states finished second on bars and third on beam; so Wilson has been a dominant force this season. But she wasn't even competing on all four events at the start.

Last summer, Wilson had tendinitis in her right achilles and had to dedicate a lot of her time rehabbing it. So when the season began, she competed only on vault and bars. Even then, she fared well, winning both events at the Peter Gueorguiev Memorial Classic with a 9.775 on vault and 9.800 on bars. A month later, she made her all-around debut for the season at the Presidential Classic. 

"This was the highlight of my season so far because I competed the best beam routine of my life and I qualified to the Nastia Cup," Wilson said. "It was also a team trip so we went to Disney the next day. It was the best weekend ever."

Her beam routine scored 9.700 for third place in her division at the Presidential Classic, which is her highest beam score of the season and her level 10 career, according to MyMeetScores. Her near-perfect vault earned a 9.950 and the event title, and Wilson also won floor and the all-around. So Wilson's declaration of "the best weekend ever" definitely wasn't an understatement, and the meet acted as a turning point in her season.

For the next three meets following the Presidential Classic, Wilson either won major all-around and event titles or had her best finish at the respective meet.

At the start of March, she competed in her fourth consecutive Nastia Liukin Cup and had her highest finish at the 2008 Olympian's namesake meet. She placed sixth in the all-around and was in the top 10 on every event. Then at the Michigan state championships and Region 5 championships, she won multiple titles, including the all-around. So while her final J.O. season had a bit of a slow start, she's on track to finish strong, which was the plan all along.

"Our focus has been her goals for championship season and her collegiate career," Wilson's coach Lori Koch said. "With that in mind, we have stayed confident in our journey and really managed her body to prevent any injuries."

"My achilles is feeling so much better, and I feel a lot stronger than I did at the start of the season," Wilson said.

Her goals for this year's J.O. Nationals are no different than before, even though this will be her last.

"My goals for J.O Nationals are to have fun and be in the moment," Wilson said. "This is going to be my last time and I really want to make it count. Also, being grateful that I’m healthy and can compete."

The five-time J.O. National qualifier said she's "been blessed enough to not have any severe injuries so far," but that doesn't mean she hasn't overcome obstacles to become one of the top level 10 gymnasts in the country. 

"A lot of people say 'you’re your own worst critic,' and it’s very true," she said. "Gymnasts work so hard, and we have high expectations for ourselves. When we make mistakes and things don’t go as planned, we have to learn how to forgive ourselves and keep moving forward."

Soon she will move on from her J.O. career to her college career at the University of Michigan, not far from her hometown of Ypsilanti, Michigan. But U of M's proximity to home wasn't why she chose it.

"While I was on my college search, I wanted a top academic program and top athletic program," she said. "I knew college was going to be more than just gymnastics, and I wanted somewhere that would put me in a good position once I graduate."

Wilson also noted Michigan's consistent top-10 national ranking in women's gymnastics and that the university is No. 27 in the country according to the 2019 U.S. News & World Report for national universities. 

"Knowing I was getting everything I wanted, the fact that it was down the street was just a perk," Wilson said. "Also, the network there is going to be so helpful, and [it will have] everything that I need to propel me into a career."

As Wilson begins to leave her J.O. days, Koch, her coach of about two years, sees qualities that will make her a great asset to Michigan.

"She has worked very hard to master her mind and body, which has brought tremendous consistency to her gymnastics," Koch said. "Her presence in the gym is powerful. Everyday her smile lights up the gym, she is eager to learn, and she is quick to do the work, no matter how difficult or demanding. Gabby is a tremendously coachable athlete. When I show her a drill or give her a correction, she has laser focus until it becomes automatic. I am so excited to see her powerfully impact Michigan’s team for the next four years."

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