Smithfield: Sports

Gymnast pursues historic feat

Lydia Davis will hit the road again this weekend. The sophomore at Corinth Holders High School is headed to Alabama, another stop on a path, possibly, to where no Johnston County athlete has gone before – to college on a gymnastics scholarship.

For the talented gymnast, the last 12 months have brought a string of accomplishments and challenges conquered. As a freshman, she won the all-around title in the state high school gymnastic championships. She then put together a memorable early 2013 capped by a national championship.

Davis, 15, helped the Region 8 National Team win the Level IX Eastern National Championship in Battle Creek, Mich., in May. She contributed three scores to the team’s victory. Region 8 includes the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Davis was one of just 21 gymnasts in the state to make the national meet, finishing 13th in the individual all-around competition.

“It’s not easy to get to that point, and to stay there over a weekend for four events is like making the cut at The Masters,” said Margaret Morgan-Lee of Morgan’s Gymnastics, where Davis trains. “Only the best come to play there, like The Masters. It’s not like making the cut in Greensboro (at the Wyndham Championship). Hitting four events at this level is putting together four great games.”

Fall vaults Davis forward

At the national meet, Davis fell just short of posting four scores of nine or higher. Her bars score came in at 8.975. The rest, including a 9.25 on the vault, were above nine.

The vault competition gave Davis the most worries thanks to a fall last November while working on her vault. Her physical injuries were relatively minor, but it took a while to regain her confidence in the event, she said.

“It made me a more confident vaulter,” Davis said of the fall. “It changed the way I look at it. It was helpful in the long run.”

The lingering vault nerves and her first time in the national spotlight made the meet more challenging for Davis. “It was definitely different than any other meet, kind of nerve wracking, so I was glad to get that over with early,” she said. “Everything was so different.”

Working with her Morgan’s Gymnastics coach, Gary Lee, Davis spent her summer preparing for the move to Level X competition in December.

Gymnasts compete at 10 levels of difficulty. Levels 1-3 are recreational, 4-7 are intermediate, and levels 8-10 are advanced, optional levels. Each level has its required skill set, and gymnasts advance only after they master those skills.

Morgan-Lee said Level 10 gymnasts are typically college-level competitors. Davis’ first Level 10 meet comes in December at the Atlantis Crown in the Bahamas.

Before that, she will take part in the National Team Training Camp Sept. 6-8 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on the University of Alabama campus. Davis will work with elite coaches from around the country, including Lee.

It will be another chance for college coaches to see the Corinth Holders High student. Coaches from N.C. State, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Florida and LSU, among others, will be in attendance.

Morgan-Lee is confident that Davis will one day be accepting a scholarship from a college coach.

Under NCAA rules, no college programs can contact Davis until her junior year, but it’s something that’s already on her mind.

“It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do, to compete with the big girls,” she said. “Now that it’s so close, I think about it more and more. I think about it all the time, and I’ve become more serious.”

Lydia’s father, Chris Davis, a teacher and coach at Corinth Holders, said some college programs have shown interest, but he doesn’t expect things to progress until next year. Chris and Lydia’s mom, Lynn, take turns traveling with their daughter to competitions. They consider it a small price to pay to help their daughter enjoy the sport she loves.

Gymnastics becomes ‘the sport’

Gymnastics was just another sport for Lydia Davis when she started competing at age 7; she also played soccer, basketball and volleyball. But once she made the competition team at Morgan’s Gymnastics just two years into her training, she decided gymnastics was the only sport for her. It was an ideal fit.

“She has such beautiful lines because of her length,” Morgan-Lee said. “She’s elegant, but what sets her apart is her athletic ability and her fierce competitiveness.

“She can have a bad event, but she’s still able to pull it back together in a meet setting. You have to do it for four consecutive quarters, or events in our case.”

Each level of gymnastics presents new challenges – new moves, routine requirements, skill sets – and that’s what keeps Davis going through the full year of training.

She trains about 25 hours a week on average, with heavier strength training during the non-competition months from late May until November.

“It gets hard being able to keep up with school work, practice and travel to meets,” Davis said. “But if I didn’t go to practice and have fun. I wouldn’t keep doing it. You can’t expect to improve without practice. Practice is just a part of it. It’s what you have to do.”

Davis’ summer was one of progress even with no competitions. She’s been doing a lot of work on the balance beam and uneven bars, adding a major release move on the bars and three new saltos (a flip that shows flight) on the beam. She’s picked up advanced moves on the floor and vault too.

She will continue to compete in major high school events, eyeing another state individual championship this coming winter.

“What keeps me going is finding something I can get better at,” Davis said. “What’s challenging is learning how to do it, sticking with it. I know I have the chance to keep going, adding more and more skills.”

Adding a college scholarship to her resume would be the ultimate, and thanks to hard work, it’s a goal within reach.