Kalliah McCartney was just trying to do her best, and history followed.
By placing sixth in the all-around competition Saturday at the NCAA women’s gymnastics Seattle Regional, the Sacramento State University junior became the first Hornet in program history to qualify for the NCAA Division I championships.
“I was definitely a lot more relaxed this meet,” the Vancouver resident and graduate of CAM High School in Battle Ground said. “I don’t know why, exactly. I wasn’t paying attention to any of the scoring. It’s kind of hard to pay attention, anyway. Honestly, I was just there to hit my routines, and that was it. I had no mindset of, ‘OK, I need to try to make it to nationals.’ It was just, ‘I’m here. I want to do the best I can, and that’s all I can ask for.’ I think that took a little pressure off me. It let me relax a little bit and have a little more fun and do what I know how to do. It all came together, fortunately.”
McCartney’s season-best aggregate score of 39.275 was the top total in the four events outside of Nebraska and Alabama gymnasts whose teams garnered the regional’s two team bids to nationals. She tied for 10th overall in vault with a score of 9.875 and in balance beam with a 9.800, and also tied for 13th with a 9.800 on floor exercise and tied for 17th in uneven parallel bars with a 9.875.
Her previous regional appearances meant that McCartney knew what to expect, and that helped calm any nerves as she was already mentally prepared for the competition.
Individual competitors are assigned a qualifying team to join in the rotation. McCartney was competing with Nebraska, which placed second to Alabama. The Crimson Tide and Cornhuskers are among the 12 teams advancing to nationals, April 18-20 in Birmingham, Ala.
After a season she described as “a roller coaster ride with ups and downs,” McCartney was happy with a solid meet at regionals and a bit surprised by her average score of better than 9.8 in the four events.
“Being able to hit all four events was a good accomplishment for the end of the season for me,” she said. “I felt really good.”
Another thing that felt good was the fact that she was not alone.
McCartney has been an individual qualifier to regionals in all-around during each of her three collegiate seasons. While Sacramento State was not a team qualifier, seven Hornets were competing in various events. That included McCartney’s two Clark County teammates, fellow CAM graduates Dallas Smith of Heisson and Kayla Wonderly of La Center. Smith tied for 26th on floor with a 9.725 and Wonderly tied for 37th in beam with a 9.200.
“It was a lot of fun having all those girls with me,” McCartney said. “We all knew, ‘OK, we’re not competing as a team; we’re all individualists here,’ but we did our same little ritual before the competition. We did our little cheer together, which was really nice because before, I didn’t have anyone to do my cheers with. We did our cheer and prayed together, and then we tried to watch each other and cheer each other on, which was quite nice. It was a little more relaxing having them there. It was like, ‘OK, this is fun.’ “
McCartney competed in a Junior Olympics nationals meet in Florida as a club gymnast, but this will be her first collegiate competition in the eastern half of the country.
She is not overwhelmed by the fact that she will be competing at nationals, but said Monday she had not yet fully processed that fact. That was to be her one day of relaxing before resuming training — although she said that her remaining practices will be relatively low-key as she hits each of her routines and calls it a day.
McCartney is particularly happy to give veteran Hornets coach Kim Hughes his first working trip to nationals.
“After the meet, my coach told me, ‘I’ve waited 27 years for this,’ and I was like, ‘Well, there you go. You’re welcome,’ ” McCartney said with a laugh. “I’m excited to go and represent Sac State at nationals. It’s definitely an honor and a privilege, and I want to represent us well, so I’m excited.”
Clark County regional competitors
Three other gymnasts from Clark County competed in NCAA Division I regionals Saturday.
— Southern Utah senior Alyssa Click, a graduate of Skyview High School, scored 9.800 (tied for 12th) on beam and 9.625 (tied for 33rd) on bars at the Minneapolis Regional as the Flippin’ Birds placed fifth.
— Brigham Young University junior KayCee Gassaway — a CAM graduate from Vancouver — scored 9.825 on vault, the team’s best individual score of the Seattle Regional, to tie for 19th; 9.775 on bars (tied for 24th) and 9.725 on floor (tied for 26th). The Cougars placed sixth.
— Boise State University freshman Diana Mejia, a Skyview High School graduate, scored 9.750 on beam (tied for 17th) and 9.275 on bars (38th place). The Broncos placed fifth at the Seattle Regional.
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