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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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No NCAA? No problem: A&M Gymnastics found its own niche

Biochemistry+freshman+Nico+Weinhauer+prepares+her+balance+beam+routine+on+Tuesday%2C+Sept.+19%2C+2023.
Photo by Photo by Katelynn Ivy

Biochemistry freshman Nico Weinhauer prepares her balance beam routine on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

Freshman gymnast Caitlyn Wagner’s mom put her in gymnastics lessons as soon as she could walk, and Wagner has been hooked ever since.
That early introduction to the sport led to a successful 11-year youth club career that was brought to an end by injury during Wagner’s senior year of high school. Instead of pursuing a return to the competitive club ranks or a spot on an NCAA squad, Wagner found herself joining the Texas A&M club gymnastics program upon her arrival in College Station.
“I just wanted to have fun with it,” Wagner said. “And this time, I am.”
Wagner said she was attracted to the program’s simple philosophy: The club is only as serious as you want it to be.
For some, that means practicing three hours a day, five days a week, to lead the Aggies to their first team National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs national championship since 2019 — their thirteenth since the club was founded in 1923. For others, that means fulfilling a life-long dream of learning how to do a backflip.
“It doesn’t matter how much experience you have,” junior vice president Juilanne Savage said. “You can come in and do handstands and leave. We are going to treat you the same.”
Senior men’s captain Tyler Naukum said that mentality fosters a sense of community that has kept the self-described “super senior” in the program for years.
“I’d love to say that coming here and doing gymnastics is my favorite part, but it’s really the people,” Naukum said. “I’ve come in here multiple days, and I may have touched one event for maybe 15 or 20 minutes. And then I talked for the rest of the time and realized that that is more entertaining and beneficial in the long run.”
Don’t let the focus on fun give you the wrong impression. This is a team that wants to win another NAIGC Level Nine national championship, the highest division of women’s competition sponsored by the organization.
“We have a really great group here,” senior women’s captain Genny Hyla said. “I think we could hit the top three. That’s my goal for our Level Nines.”
There are a few reasons why the Aggies are among the nation’s top club programs as opposed to contending for SEC titles, with the elephant in the room being college gymnastics’ place in Texas — or lack thereof.
Texas has long been a hotbed for gymnastics talent. A third of the athletes on Team USA’s women’s gymnastics squad at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics hailed from the Lone Star State, including four-time gold medalist Simone Biles.
The talent in Texas has not translated into an abundance of NCAA gymnastics programs. Only one school, Division II Texas Women’s University in Denton, sponsors a varsity-level women’s squad. And on the men’s side, only a handful of colleges sponsor the sport at all.
That void provides an opportunity for gymnasts such as Hyla who enjoy the unique environment the Aggie club has created.
“The fact that we don’t have a DI gymnastics team is actually why I’m here,” Hyla said. “I’m not at a DI level. Going to a school that did have that probably would have made me feel left out. But that’s what I love about here — this is our gymnastics team. This is everyone.”
That’s not to say the club is opposed to the Maroon and White joining the NCAA gymnastics ranks — far from it. Hyla recently wrote a paper on the subject, and believes the addition of Texas and Oklahoma (the latter of which does sponsor NCAA men’s and women’s gymnastics) to the SEC may provoke the state’s schools into adding gymnastics to their repertoire.
“There’s so much money in SEC gymnastics that Texas is just missing out on right now,” Hyla said. “A lot of the gymnasts who would want to go to college in Texas can’t because there’s no DI program here, and they have to go to OU or LSU instead. If there was a DI school in Texas, a lot of those gymnasts would prefer to stay in state.”
A&M’s gymnastics program sees the lack of an NCAA squad as an opportunity to find its own place within the university, and is happy to capitalize on the positives.
“The fact that we’re not NCAA-sponsored is both a good and a bad thing,” Naukum said. “I definitely think it’s a good thing because we can bring in new people and introduce gymnastics to people who have maybe never seen or never done gymnastics.”
But as a Texan, Naukum said he is eager to see the state increase its presence in collegiate gymnastics — regardless of what school makes the leap.
“Texas is like the number-one recruited gymnastics state, and everybody goes to other places like Stanford, Oklahoma and Florida,” Naukum said. “It definitely leaves a lot of room open. Why don’t we have an NCAA program in Texas, be it here or at some other college?”
The seemingly eternal NCAA question aside, it’s Aggie gymnastics’ unique niche it’s carved out over the last century that continues to attract newcomers like Wagner and keep leaders like Naukum coming back for more.
“Whatever you want to work on, you come in here and you work on it, and people help you out, and you help other people out,” Savage said. “We come in, we grind, we put in the work and hope to improve. That’s basically what it looks like.”

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  • Biomedical engineering freshman Sarah Buchanan rehearses her jumps on the balance beam on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

    Photo by Photo by Katelynn Ivy
  • Mathmatics junior Joel Montgomery practices his routine on the parallel bars on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

    Photo by Photo by Katelynn Ivy
  • Engineering freshman Ahren Peters practices on the horizontal bar on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023.

    Photo by Photo by Katelynn Ivy
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About the Contributor
Ian Curtis
Ian Curtis, Sports Reporter
Ian Curtis is a journalism freshman from College Station, Texas. Ian has written about football, men's basketball, women's basketball, baseball, hockey, gymnastics, volleyball and more for The Battalion. Ian's work has also appeared in The Bryan-College Station Eagle and over the airwaves on WTAW and BCSball.com. 
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