Kristen Linton, a former walk-on who had been slowed by injuries while attending Meadowdale High School, revived her gymnastics career with the Huskies. UW coach Joanne Bowers also faced a rebuilding project, when she took over as the Huskies' coach before the 2007 season.
Rebuilding programs. The Washington gymnastics team and one of its senior captains, Kristen Linton of Edmonds, have both been engaged in one the past few years.
The fruits of both efforts will be on display Saturday when an ascending Huskies squad competes as the No. 3 seed in a six-team NCAA regional meet at the University of Oklahoma.
The top two teams advance to the NCAA national meet April 15. The Huskies, ranked 17th, need to bump off either fifth-ranked Oklahoma or seventh-ranked Utah to reach nationals for the first time since 1998.
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A tall order. Could it happen? You bet, says Linton, an All-Pac-10 second-team selection on floor.
“We want to go in and do what we’ve been doing all season — not think about any other team and just do our best in each event,” she said. “I think we have a great shot of making nationals as a team, the best we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Linton knows something about beating the odds.
Flash back to 2007: Joanne Bowers, who had been hired in summer 2006, takes over as coach for a sagging UW program that one year earlier hit an all-time low by not qualifying for an NCAA regional, UW’s first regional miss in 25 years.
That same year Linton was a senior at Lynnwood’s Meadowdale High School. Despite being a level 10 club gymnast and a four-time junior nationals competitor, she received no scholarship offers. A rib injury hindered her sophomore and junior seasons.
Linton, ready to give up gymnastics and attend Western Washington, received a call from Bowers in midsummer 2007, inviting her to join UW as a walk-on.
Bowers gambled that Linton’s past skills (documented in a video Linton had sent to UW) could be revived and added the Seattle Gymnastics Academy product to her first recruiting class.
“Kristen had a great deal of potential coming out of club but injuries held her back,” Bowers said. “We hoped that the team environment would help her.”
Good call. Linton worked hard and by the second quarter of her freshman year Bowers awarded her a scholarship.
“I improved a lot,” Linton said. “It’s helped have an actual team to back me up and support me. When I was competing alone and made a mistake, it didn’t matter as much. Now I wanted to score well for myself and my teammates. It added a new level to gymnastics for me. All the friendships I’ve made have been great.”
She finished her freshman season ranked 57th nationally on bars. As a junior last year she and Samantha Walior, another member of Bowers’ inaugural recruiting class, were dual regional champions on floor. Each posted a 9.9, earning UW’s first individual regional title since 2004.
Linton individually advanced to nationals and placed 21st. Not bad for a former walk-on.
• UW’s rank (17th) and regional seeding (third) are highs in Bowers’ five-year tenure.
• The Huskies (16-10), who lost key performer Hatsune Akaogi to injury in January, faced both Oklahoma and Utah during the regular season and each time lost by more than a point.
• Last week UW placed third at the Pac-10 meet, scoring 196.025 and upsetting third-ranked Stanford.
“Anything can happen on any given day,” said Bowers. “The confidence we gained at Pac-10s by beating Stanford has our team believing it can happen again.We really just need to focus on ourselves and hitting our routines because we cannot control what the other teams do.If we can hit 24 of 24 routines, we put ourselves in a good position if either of those teams falter.”
• Linton is one of UW’s four All-Pac-10 honorees, the most for the school since 2008. Walior, from Prior Lake, Minn., is a first-team selection on bars, second team on beam. Other second-team picks: junior Ruby Engreitz, an Inglemoor grad (bars) and junior Amanda Cline (vault).