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Kowalik a Champion for second consecutive year

by Alyssa Daley-EXECUTIVE EDITOR
Tue, Apr 11th 2017 10:00 pm
Photos courtesy  of the Brockport Athletic Communications via Flickr
Photos courtesy of the Brockport Athletic Communications via Flickr
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 For student-athletes, there are always two goals for the season. There's the team goal which is normally interlocked with the second and is the most prominent throughout the season. Then, there is the individual goal which is in the back of every athlete's mind but truly comes to the forefront toward the end of the season. With the end of the gymnastics season comes the decision as to which gymnasts performed well enough to be recognized as First or Second-Team All-Americans as well as individual event champions.

For sophomore gymnast Candis Kowalik, landing at the top of the competition is not something new. Coming in as a freshman last year she was able to back bend and flip her way to become the 2016 Individual Beam Champion. After her amazing performance last year during her first season there was pressure for her to live up to the expectations her coach, teammates, family, friends and most importantly herself had set for her coming into this season. Kowalik far from disappointed as she ended this season as two-time individual beam champion and the designation of being First Team All-American.

Even the best of the best have to start somewhere and as this is only her second season as a Golden Eagle, seeing where Kowalik first began means looking back only a couple of years. The College at Brockport women's gymnastics Head Coach John Feeney remembers when he made his first recruitment trip out to see Kowalik before she had even made the final decision to attend Brockport and compete in green and gold.

"Well when I went out to recruit her I could tell there was potential there so I knew I had something to work with," Feeney said. "The problem always is getting them to believe in themselves.  She works really hard on the little things that judges like to deduct from and her jumps on beam and floor are so much better than other gymnasts. As far as a contender for the title it all boils down to the mental side of things and Candis is a meet person for sure."

For the head coach of a team which has successfully been able to place top three in the NCGA Championships for years and has had multiple gymnasts qualify as either champions in certain areas of the arena or as First or Second Team All-Americans to notice not only skill but determination before even having the chance to help that gymnast grow himself is says something. Kowalik had proven herself before even stepping up to the mat in the Tuttle North Gymnastics Center.

As freshman year brought Kowalik to Brockport and gave Feeney the opportunity to build her skill and self-confidence the idea of her winning the title of individual beam champion seemed kind of far off. Of course everyone has long-term goals but performing well each meet was the more immediate goal for Kowalik as she worked hard to make the transition from high school to college as well as place in the top three in her events. Feeney remembers the moment last year and the moment this year when he looked at the results and found out she had been able to earn the title.

"My reaction was that her hard work paid off," Feeney said. "I try to teach what the work effort means and she puts it in everyday.  So for me it is always very rewarding to see all that hard work pay off.  As far as this year, I told her right up front what you did last year means nothing once you walk thru the doors to the gym. You have to earn the right to compete by what you do in practice and she has earned that right every meet by how hard she works in practice. Gymnasts all have aches and pains and so has [Kowalik] but it is how you handle the ups and downs and she has done that very well."

Like with many sports there is no "I" in team and both Kowalik and Feeney know this. Kowalik wasn't alone in being recognized for her individual performance. This year with sophomores Taylor Keough and Erica Roth and senior Jen Sklenar all finished their 2017 season as Second Team All-Americans. Sophomore Stephanie Mager also took home First-Team All-American honors only on the vault. Five Golden Eagles earned Second-Team All-American for their floor routines and two more gymnasts won the same for their performances on the bars. There is no doubt that each gymnast pulled her weight this year for the team's third place overall NCGA Championship finish.

With so much to be proud of it can be hard to stay humble but Feeney did just that as he took a moment to not only look back on this season but all the success the program has generated as a whole.

"I build my team around the work 'TEAM' ... 'Together Everybody Achieves More.' I want great kids who are great people along with great athleticism," Feeney said. "I don't really care about my record I like being able to dangle the carrot so to speak in front of them to get better and learn new skills.  I have the facility to make this happen and most important I make sure they have fun."

Beginning to think about next season Feeney already has a plan of action in the works starting with the "little things."

"Now that the season is over I will continue to work on the little things that the judges deduct," Feeney said. "Form is the biggest issue, handstands on bars, jumps leaps turns beam and floor. I might train a little different going into Nationals next year if we make it but the hard part about our sport it's all subjective so there is no real strategies other than hard work and effort and it pays off in the end."


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