Coach Laurel Tindall, in her 42nd season, has been with the Falcon program nearly from the start. The Falcons will host the USA Gymnastics Women’s Collegiate Championships this weekend and will be competing in their 35th national meet in the past 36 years.
Starting Friday, the Seattle Pacific gymnastics team will compete in a national-championship meet for the 35th time in 36 years as it hosts the three-day USA Gymnastics Women’s Collegiate Championships at Brougham Pavilion.
SPU’s coach at each of those meets, and many meets before them, has been Magnolia native Laurel Tindall.
Now in her 42nd season, Tindall could qualify as a school institution. Tindall, who turns 64 in July, laughs, then squints at the thought. “Do we have to go there?” she asked.
USA Gymnastics Women’s Collegiate Championships
Seattle Pacific, Brougham Pavilion
Friday: Team semifinals, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Saturday: Team finals, 7 p.m.
Sunday: Individual finals, 1 p.m.
The Falcons, after placing third in the past three national meets, are the No. 9 seed in a nine-team field of small-scale programs — Division II schools and Division I universities that offer no more than 7.5 scholarships per year.
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The top seed is Bridgeport (Conn.), followed by two-time defending champion Lindenwood (of St. Charles, Mo., coached by Inglemoor grad Jen Kesler), Texas Woman’s (Denton), Cornell, Air Force, Yale, Brown and West Chester (Pa.).
Team semifinals are Friday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., team finals Saturday at 7 p.m. and individual finals Sunday at 1 p.m. SPU junior Ariana Harger is the defending national champion on floor exercise.
SPU has won three national titles under Tindall—an NCAA Division II championship in 1986, then two more titles (1992, 1997) after the sport’s governing body, USA Gymnastics, organized a small-school championship in 1987. The NCAA had dropped the D-II meet due to too few D-II schools sponsoring the sport.
Tindall has been involved with SPU gymnastics almost since the program’s inception.
She got serious about gymnastics at age 13 and trained with George Lewis at the Seattle YMCA before enrolling at Washington. As a freshman in 1973 she won an individual national title on vault at a pre-NCAA (AIAW), all-division national meet. A year earlier, she competed in the U.S. Olympic trials.
In 1973 Lewis moved his training operations to SPU after renting space from the university and, as a side job, started its gymnastics program in 1974. Tindall, a graduate of Queen Anne High School, transferred to SPU. She won another national vault title for her new school in 1975.
“When I was competing for UW, I was still training at SPU because that’s where George and our club program was,” Tindall said. “Washington was just too big for me, and all my friends were SPU people.”
Did her championship routine including demanding Yurchenko or Tsukahara maneuvers? “Oh, no, we didn’t have those vaults in those days,” Tindall said. “At that point we had a compulsory vault for elite competition, a Yamashita. I won nationals with a 9.4. That wouldn’t even make any of these teams today.
“By my senior year, flipping vaults like Tsukahara were just coming into existence. Round-off Yurchenkos hadn’t even been thought of at that time. Coaches didn’t know how to spot them, and we didn’t have soft, loose foam pits to train into, so we just stuck with vaults that twisted. Gyms have changed a lot.”
Tindall graduated in 1975 at 21. Lewis, juggling many tasks, ordained her as SPU’s new coach. “I had coached all that time as a way to fund my schooling,” Tindall said. “He told people at the school, ‘Laurel is graduating and you should make her the coach.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ That’s how it kind of came about.”
Tindall remains fond of her unintended career. “I enjoy coaching,” she said. “It wasn’t my plan to stay in it for 42 years, but I had a sociology and psychology major, so what do you do with that? That first year I was working three jobs to support myself. I remember I made $700 for coaching the college team. It has gone up a little bit since then.”
Career highlights? Jumping from eighth place to first in the final rotation to win the 1986 national title and coaching her daughter, Kai, a walk-on who eventually won a national title on floor in her senior season, 2014.
“It’s hard to follow a parent’s footsteps in their same sport,” said Tindall, who briefly grew teary-eyed at the recollection. “In our gym we have all these banners of All-Americans (including 199 gymnasts), and my name’s up there. She told me, ‘I want my name on the wall.’ So it was really cool that in her senior year she became a national champion.”
Speaking of following in someone’s footsteps, does Tindall, who says she can still do handstands and cartwheels “and almost do my splits; I’ve been working to get them back,” have plans to step aside any time soon? “No,” she said with a smile, “not quite yet.”
• Harger placed 18th on floor (9.8) at last week’s NCAA Division I regional meet at UW. SPU routinely competes against D-I schools, and Harger’s regular-season scores qualified her to compete in the major-school meet. UW placed second at the regional and will compete at the NCAA championships for the first time since 1998 in St. Louis April 14-15.
• In addition to UW qualifying for the NCAAs, Sammamish High School coach Jerry Penney, who once coached Tindall in the 1970s, retired after 47 years.