The best-kept secret on campus is the Oregon acrobatics and tumbling team.
Head coach Felecia Mulkey has successfully guided her team to back-to-back NCATA national titles and has opened up the 2013 season leading two convincing victories over Azusa Pacific University and Baylor.
The excitement and pure athleticism of an acrobatics and tumbling meet is undeniable; it is incredibly fast paced, and seeing the tumblers fly all over the pads is a sight to behold.
But the exciting new sport is still in its infant stages, and seniors Samantha Schulze, Lauren Loos and Julia Magdelino have seen quite the transformation since they arrived in Eugene for the inaugural year of the program in 2009.
The set up of acrobatics and tumbling was the brainchild Mulkey, who outlined the meet format on the back of a napkin while on a plane. Despite these humble beginnings, the sport now has a national governing body, the National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association and currently has eight schools that compete at the Division I level.
“It started as us going to cheer competitions,” said Loos, reflecting back on her freshman season. “Our first year we had two or three official meets … We kind of had to just make up stuff as we went. Oregon has led the way in the NCATA program, setting the standards for everything, even little stuff, like (how) you run on and off the floor.”
The question is, why now? What is the sudden draw to competitive acrobatics and tumbling?
Magdelino believes that a large part of it has to do with current state of gymnastics and the increased opportunities her sport provides.
“Artistic gymnastics has slowly been dying, and it’s really hard for any girl in artistic gymnastics to get into the collegiate level just because there’s so limited opportunities,” Magdelino said. “Acrobatics and tumbling, what it does is create so many more opportunities especially since each team has 35 to 40 girls, which is quadruple the amount of a gymnastics team.”
With all the opportunities for women that the sport provides, all three athletes believe that at this point, the sky is really the limit for the sport.
“I think it’s going to be huge,” said Schulze. “I think by then, gymnastics is going to be not completely gone, but I think it’s going to be so much smaller, and this is going to take over. There’s going to be so many more opportunities for girls to do it.”
Magdelino agreed. “I think based on where we are right now as a sport, five years is going to bring something, 10 years is going to bring something … We’re just going to be so far past where we are now just based on what we’ve done the past three years.”
Looking a little closer in the future, the next goal for the Oregon acrobatics and tumbling team is another national championship, and if they were able to succeed, it would be their third in as many years.
Repeating championships is one of the hardest tasks in all sports. When asked if they have the ability to make history and win another title, all three athletes immediately acknowledge, “Yeah, it’s there.”
With their supreme confidence and talent, a threepeat doesn’t seem out of the question for this group of athletes — in fact, it seems very plausible.