Senior duo providing leadership for Batavia's talented newcomers
As seniors, Lillian Baty-Barr and Jessica Nena have already made immense contributions to the Batavia girls gymnastics program.
And their biggest contributions this winter won't be how they score on an event or two, but how they guide and lead a team of young and talented Bulldogs.
"They've already told me that they don't want me to find them a varsity spot just because they're seniors," Batavia coach Taryn Boyce said. "And I told them I wouldn't do that. If I don't think their scores will help the team then I'm not going to just throw them in. They're very mature in that aspect. And they're still going to be phenomenal leaders and lead in a positive way, and both of them have great work ethic."
Last postseason Baty-Barr competed on vault and beam at the regional while Nena worked floor and beam.
"It's weird because we're going from being some of the top people here for three years and now we're kind of fighting for a spot," Nena said. "It's a different dynamic but it's really good for us and I feel as a captain that it's good for us to be pushed even more."
They still may see action in varsity meets this winter, but with juniors Olivia Bartolotta and Taylor Novotny back in the mix as all-arounders, a handful of other experienced returnees and a large, gifted class of 7 freshmen, opportunities to compete are going to be at a premium for a Bulldogs squad that might be its most talented since they went to state in 2009.
"These freshmen are talented go-getters and if you ask them to do something, they do it," Boyce said. "Lillian and Jessica knew all these freshmen were coming in and panicking about losing their varsity spots, but with their competitiveness and composure, they know if they're solid, then they'll compete because they know these freshmen are coming in with a lot of skill."
What these freshmen lack is experience in high school gymnastics as a whole and it's more than mastering their tsuk vaults or their dismounts on bars, but also learning to be a teammate, balancing academics with athletics, keeping their poise during a long meet as well as the countless other adversities that teens encounter in high school.
Now, they have two bigger sisters, so to speak, to help them get acclimated and guide them throughout the season as their leaders and captains. And leadership is not about being the best gymnast but about making everyone else better.
"We're excited about this year because we've never had a team this good put together," Baty-Barr said. "We're OK if we step back and they do most of the scoring for the team and we help set them up for success for the next 3 or 4 years. It's more important for us to lead then in putting up good scores."
So far, practices have gone well for the Bulldogs.
"We feel like they're our little sisters in the way they look up to us," Nena said. "We feel like we're helping them in gymnastics and outside of gymnastics so we've liked taking on that role and helping out."
Considering that the freshmen are only a few months into high school, don't drive or even have a permit yet whereas Baty-Barr and Nena are approaching graduation and are already getting excited about the next chapter in their lives, you have a unique make-up of a team. That next chapter is to attend Northern Arizona University (elementary education) and the University of Iowa (business), respectively.
"We've worked really hard these past 3 years to get rid of cliques and that kind of thing," Baty-Barr said. "Now we've got a really good group of girls and it's nice to have the team bond like this which is exciting. We're going to try to help them with whatever they ask us and we're going to have fun. They're super bubbly, they listen and they look to be really good teammates."
Seniors referred to as "extra coaches on the field" may be a bit overplayed, but it definitely rings true with these two Bulldogs.
"Club is more focused on yourself and we're one big team so we're helping them learn that," Nena said. "It's much harder here mentally because in club you're only getting ready for a couple of meets and here we have two meets in multiple weeks that you have to get used to doing. I feel that it helps when Lillian and I explain this stuff to them since we've been through everything here."
What they haven't been through though yet is a really successful season. They've peaked in the low 130s the past two years and had a 134.2 at the regional during their freshmen season when Baty-Barr led the way in the all-around with a 31.35.
"We've been rebuilding these last 5 years and I honestly can't remember a time where I've had an entire team with this much talent and the same great attitude," Boyce said. "We've got phenomenal leadership and these freshmen have come in and almost taken their spots, but they haven't ostracized them. Lillian wanted to quit her sophomore year but decided to stay and now it's like I have another coach in the gym. She's working her butt off even if she's not one of the top kids and she's leading by example."