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Good, better, Best: Gymnast carries battered Buckeyes

The Lantern

Plagued with injuries that sidelined four girls for the remainder of the season, the OSU women’s gymnastics team will rely heavily on the shoulders of junior Rebecca Best in 2010.

“Her role will continue to be one of our most consistent competitors,” coach Carey Fagan said. “So we’re going to lean on her pretty heavily again this year.”

Best is Ohio State’s first returning All-American in gymnastics since 1999. Best earned All-American honors on floor in last year’s National Championship and scored a 9.850 on floor at the April 16 NCAA Championship. She became the sixth Buckeye to earn national laurels in gymnastics.

When recruiting Best, Fagan said she recognized the potential in her athletic prowess.

“[Best] has a natural quickness and speed, and she’s incredibly strong,” Fagan said. “Those are all things in gymnastics you have to have.”

On her recruiting trip, Best said the connection she felt with the girls played a major role in her decision to come to OSU.

“One of the first things I noticed when I came here was how close all the girls were,” Best said. “Then I fell in love with the campus when they took me on the tour.”

In her time at OSU, Best has amassed some impressive honors and accomplishments within gymnastics.

Last season, Best was second in the all-around, vault and beam while ranking third on floor and bars among the Buckeyes. In ’08 and ’09 she was named a second-team All-Big Ten honoree. At the 2009 NCAA Central Regional Championships, Best posted a career-high all-around total of 39.350 for the second consecutive time (a 40.000 is a perfect score in all 4 events). She was named the OSU team’s Impact Player on beam and earned the “O”-chievement Award for most valuable performer.

And that was just her sophomore season.

But Fagan said the biggest growth she’s seen in Best in her time at OSU is not in her gymnastics, but in her sense of leadership. Although an aggressive competitor, Best is quiet and her personality is reserved, Fagan said.

“I think as a member of the team she’s really developing as a leader in terms of sharing her experiences with the other kids, really developing that whole concept of being on a team,” Fagan said. “Contributing not just as an individual, but how she can help her teammates, giving them tips here and there.”

Associate Athletic Director and Sports Administrator for OSU gymnastics, Heather Lyke, also recognizes a progression in Best’s overall performance.

“She is determined to improve every year and continues to grow as a leader on our team,” Lyke said.

At their home opener in St. John Arena on Jan. 16, the Buckeyes took second to Oregon State, where the loss of girls due to injury seemed to affect the team’s overall performance.

Despite Best’s slip up on floor near the end of the meet, Fagan believes the pressure of being the athletic leader of the team will help Best in the long run.

“I think she’ll snap out of it, because she learns with every mistake that she makes,” Fagan said. “Very rarely does she make the same mistake twice.”

What makes Best unique among gymnasts is her continued increase in difficulty level over the years, Fagan said.

“That’s not typical in college gymnastics. A lot of time kids come and have to maintain their skills as they get older,” Fagan said. “But Rebecca’s still developing and I think she’s going to continue to be a standout.”

What Best likes most about gymnastics is not the applause or the recognition for her multiple achievements, but rather a simplistic enjoyment of acrobatics.

“I like to flip and I like to go as high as I can. It’s just fun to see how many skills [I] can do,” Best said. “I like to get the scores and see how much better [I] do from the last meet.”

Although she says staying consistent is one of her main goals for the season, Best added to her beam routine a handspring-layout-layout. Imagine someone flipping onto their feet from a handstand, followed by two front flips with legs straight out, toes pointed, all while landing on a balance beam measuring 10 centimeters in width.

Fagan said despite trying to better the girls’ routines, they have to remain somewhat conservative to keep the girls healthy and to get them through the season. Watering down routines for now, the girls will build them back up before Championships.

“I think the biggest thing is for the team to pull together with all these injuries. At the beginning of the year we set some pretty big goals of winning Big Ten’s and qualifying in NCAA’s,” Fagan said. “But it’s going to take a lot of team chemistry to develop between now and then.”

With nine meets left before Big Ten Championships, Fagan took a moment to look ahead to next year. She has big dreams for Best in her final season, like becoming a team captain.

“I think she can be a repeat All-American,” Fagan said. “One of the goals I’ve set for her is to be a Big Ten Champion, whether it’s on an event or in the all-around, that’s something we’re working towards.”

And what does Best want?

“To do better than last year,” she said. “That’s always my goal.”

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