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WVU-bound Highlands gymnast picks prom over national championships

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 12:18 a.m.
Highlands senior gymnast Jordan Gillette
Highlands senior gymnast Jordan Gillette

Few seniors at Highlands better understand how to thrill a crowd with smooth moves and stunning balance than gymnast Jordan Gillette.

Gillette's abilities on the beam, bars, vault and floor earned her a spot on the West Virginia gymnastics team, which she committed to in December. And more recently, her talents secured her a spot in the Junior Olympics Level 10 national championships May 10 in Jackson, Miss.

That day, Gillette will forego tucks and twists, though.

Instead, she'll showcase all her grace and coordination on a dance floor.

Torn between two last-hurrah opportunities, Gillette chose prom over a final trip to the Junior Olympic championships. That decision meant her performance in Sunday's Region 7 Championships in Allentown served as a conclusion for the high school-age portion of her career. And what a send-off it was.

Competing against gymnasts from Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and West Virginia, she placed sixth in all-around competition, second in the floor event, third on the balance beam and fourth on the uneven bars — she had previously never finished better than fifth in any event. Her scores in all-around and floor, 37.45 and 9.7, respectively, were career-bests.

That banner day made Gillette's long-debated decision to attend prom over nationals tougher to accept.

“It was a hard decision — it was honestly harder than making my college decision,” she said. “I was heartbroken after I made my decision. I was standing up there on the podium, saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I made nationals.' But I finished my JO career on a high note.”

Gillette conferred with West Virginia's coaches, who assured her that nothing about their arrangement changed if she picked prom over nationals.

“If they said that they cared if I went to nationals, then I'd obviously go to nationals,” she said. “But they said, ‘It's your senior year. Go do stuff with your class. Go to your prom. Enjoy it.' They know I'm not changing schools. They know I'm committed to them.”

At long last, a great degree of certainty exists in Gillette's life when it comes to gymnastics. Her schedule for the next several months is set: She will continue training with Cranberry-based X-Cel Gymnastics until she leaves for West Virginia in September. Her role with the Mountaineers also is set: They want her for the all-around competition.

Many of the plans during Gillette's senior year have been anything but concrete. Most Division I-quality gymnasts commit as underclassmen, Gillette said, yet she began the 2013-14 school year with little more than a list of options. Pitt, though interested in her for several years, had no space left on its roster for her. Eastern Michigan pursued her, so she visited and quickly determined she disliked the distance and campus setting.

A visit to West Virginia's campus left Gillette with no doubt about where she wanted to go. She committed that same day.

Her commitment created another dilemma: How seriously should she take her senior gymnastics season? West Virginia wanted to see her remain dedicated to training and improvement but didn't necessarily require any exponential progress.

Gillette gave the Mountaineers a solid season anyway. She committed three to four months to a new tumbling pass in her floor routine — that pass allowed her to score the 9.7 at regionals.

As March approached and Gillette remained dateless for prom, she considering prioritizing nationals over the year-end dance. That changed once Nick Shook asked her to be his date.

“I think it was like the week before states,” said Gillette, who claimed the state title in the balance beam March 15. “(Prior to Shook), I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe I should change my mind.' Maybe I should decide that I'm going to just work really hard and go to nationals. But then I thought about it being my senior year.

“I'm heartbroken that I can't go to nationals and do what I love. But I'm excited that I'm going to prom and will be with my senior class.”

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