Pitt gymnast Adrian, WVU's Millick look to finish their collegiate careers strong

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Alyssa Adrian's collegiate gymnastics career didn't start off the way she would have scripted it, but she's getting a chance to write a better ending.

The Pitt senior will be joined by her teammates at an NCAA regional championship at 6 p.m. Saturday in Gainesville, Fla. The Panthers, who haven't qualified as a team since 2007, will compete against No. 1 Florida, No. 12 Minnesota, No. 12 Auburn, No. 24 Maryland and Bridgeport, a Division II school.

The top two teams and all-around competitors (who aren't on an advancing team) qualify for the NCAA championships April 19-21 in Los Angeles.

When it comes to injuries, Adrian has experienced her fair share. A broken left hand wiped out her freshman season before it began.

Then came pulled muscles, a sprained wrist, stress fractures (in her feet and shins) and sprained ankles too numerous to count.

“I have the worst ankles in the world probably,” she said with a laugh.

Now healthy, Adrian has been able to contribute to the team in all four events — uneven bars, beam, vault and floor — something she couldn't do before because of her ankles.

In just her third time competing in the all-around, Adrian won the East Atlantic Gymnastics League championship.

“It's kind of crazy,” she said.

She recorded scores of 9.850 (vault), 9.775 (bars), 9.800 (beam) and 9.825 (floor) as the team finished third overall.

“I don't think words describe how relieved I am and thankful how healthy I am this year to really contribute to my team on all four events,” she said. “It's really been the most amazing and perfect senior season that I could ask for.”

West Virginia senior Kaylyn Millick knows the feeling.

The Trinity graduate is having her best year with the Mountaineers, setting or tying career highs in all four events. She recorded a 9.95 on the floor, which ties West Virginia's all-time mark. (“It's just a good combination of being powerful and graceful, and I love to dance, too,” she said.)

Next up for Millick and the Mountaineers are the NCAA regionals, set for Morgantown, W.Va. The other teams are No. 5 Michigan, No 8 Nebraska, No. 17 Illinois, No. 19 Kentucky and North Carolina.

“She's putting a lot of pressure on herself, so really we've just had several conversations of, ‘We don't need to reinvent the wheel this weekend. Let's just go out there and do what you've been doing the past seven, eight weeks,' ” coach Jason Butts said. “She's had a great season so far, and I don't want to change anything.”

Millick, who placed second in the Big 12 and is ranked No. 27 nationally, turned her focus to the vault this summer to improve her all-around score. And a greater awareness of the importance of being mentally strong and prepared has helped lead to her success.

“I can't tell you how many times I've been scared to do something, or it kind of messes with your mind sometimes,” she said. “You do it so many times, yet you're still like, ‘What am I doing? I have to let go of this 10-foot bar and land on my feet?' ”

Millick landed on her feet at West Virginia after transferring from Eastern Michigan following her freshman season. She took a leap of faith, giving up her scholarship to compete for the university that much of her family had attended.

“When I was hurt, I really realized how much I loved the sport and how quickly it can be taken away from you no matter what it is, whether you get hurt or if it's a mental block or anything,” Millick said. “You kind of realize, my time's ending; whether you're a freshman or a junior, it's ending eventually. You have to go after it, not be afraid of it, put in your all and go for the best. I think that's what I really try to do.”

Note: No. 14 Penn State will compete in the Norman, Okla., regional against No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 11 Stanford, No. 22 Washington, Iowa and Southern Utah.

Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mpalm@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MikePalm_Trib.

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