Highlands graduate Gillette, WVU gymnasts set for regional
Jordan Gillette knows the significance of three-tenths of a point.
That seemingly insignificant number, a mere fraction, proved enough to deny Gillette and the West Virginia gymnastics team a trip to the 2017 NCAA championships after the Mountaineers finished that much behind Alabama for second place at regionals.
So with a return trip to regionals looming Saturday, Gillette and the Mountaineers are focusing on the most minute details of their routines, which can either mean a trip to nationals or the end of their season and Gillette's collegiate career.
The Mountaineers will travel to Penn State at 4 p.m. Saturday for the University Park Regional. Fourth-seeded WVU (13-13) will compete against Florida, Washington, Arizona State, Penn State and New Hampshire, with the top two finishers advancing to the national championships later this month in St. Louis, Mo.
“That three-tenths has definitely stuck with me through this season,” said Gillette, a senior and Highlands graduate. “Every little .025 point, every little toe point, every little bobble, every little slightly missed handstand or every little move on your dismount or tumbling pass, just focusing on the little things and just building off of our performances we've had this year.”
For West Virginia, that means maintaining the improvement it showed for most of the season. And for Gillette, it means performing consistently on bars, beam and floor, the three events she competed in all season.
“For me, I think it's just been continuing hard work from when I got on campus 'till now,” Gillette said. “I wanted to improve 1 percent each day, and I think this year I really put an emphasis on being consistent and working hard each day. Some days aren't going to be your best days, and those are the days when you make the biggest changes. It's staying focused and trying to improve from meet to meet, doing the best I can and finishing out on a strong note.”
Although she once hoped to perform in the all-around — her three events, plus vault — she became a consistent scorer in each of her three events. Gillette ranks third on West Virginia (13-13) with 350.85 points, averaging between 9.727 and 9.76 in each of her three events.
She set a new career high with a 9.85 on uneven bars last month and twice tied her career high of 9.875 on floor.
West Virginia coach Jason Butts said lineups can fluctuate from meet to meet as coaches attempt to find the right fit, something Gillette handles well.
“Being the mature athlete she is as a senior, a lot of times freshmen don't understand when they can score 9.85 and they're out of the lineup the next weekend,” Butts said. “Jordan was really supportive of that, even as a junior. But once you realize as an athlete the coaches are only putting in the best athletes to help the team as a whole, you have a different perspective on why those decisions are being made. Jo just showed up to get the job done.”
As one of three seniors, Gillette also takes on a role as a leader, both verbally and by example. Butts said the Highlands graduate keeps a positive attitude “99.9 percent of the time,” a valuable trait.
“Jo is really a hard worker, and a lot of her leadership is from setting a great example of always being the one willing to go the extra mile in the gym or at a competition,” Butts said. “And also being really observant to her teammates around her and knowing they may need a little pick-me-up or a pep talk. All athletes get more mature as they go through college, and her senior year, she's risen to the top.”
West Virginia last appeared at the NCAA championships in 2000, but Gillette believes the Mountaineers are peaking at the right time. The team scored a season-high 196.775 points in a meet three weeks ago at Towson. That consistent improvement, plus a short distance to travel to Penn State, is giving the team some comfort heading into regionals.
“We've qualified through to regionals every year since my freshman year, and I think we've gotten better and gotten stronger as a team,” Gillette said. “To go into regionals for the fourth time, I know what to expect. I know how the rotation goes. It'll be just another day.
“You can't look at it like something different than a regular road meet. You've just got to have confidence and do what you do in practice.”