Nicole Pruchnik closes the curtains on gymnastics after 18 years
Edgar Ayala – Sports Editor
On April 10, after her final meet for the Owls at USAG Collegiate Nationals in St. Charles, Mo., Nicole Pruchnik closed the curtains on not only her collegiate career at Southern, but her entire 18-year career in gymnastics.
The senior out of Rochester, Mass. capped her gymnastics career in convincing fashion, as Pruchnik earned All-American honors in the floor exercise. She scored a 9.825 in the event and finished eighth overall – tying her season-high.
“I didn’t give the best performance of my career, but I did perform the best I ever had at a national competition,” said Pruchnik on her performance at nationals. “When I was at finals my coaches told me I drew in everyone and had the whole arena clapping, and loving my routine. That was a great feeling.”
Jerry Nelson, head coach for Southern’s gymnastics team, said Pruchnik did an “outstanding job” in qualifying to the final championships at nationals.
Additionally, Nelson said the team hit 95 percent of their routines at nationals, and had individual athletes achieve season-highs in those events.
“We had a lot of hit routines,” said Nelson. “I think all the athletes did really well. They rose to the occasion of nationals.”
Not only that, but according to Nelson, Pruchnik’s last routine at nationals captivated the whole audience inside Lindenwood University.
Nelson added that the athletes and coaches from opposing schools started clapping to her routine and music, as she dazzled the whole crowd in her season-high score in the floor exercise.
“Immediately afterwards,” said Nelson, “I had three coaches come up to me and compliment me on how well she performed in her routine. And how much fun it was [to watch her perform.]”
As a team, the gymnastics program managed to qualify the second-most individuals in program history, qualifying 10 athletes to St. Charles, Mo.
Last year, the team qualified a program record 11 athletes to nationals. However, the 2015 roster featured a total of 20 athletes, while this year’s roster has 16 athletes.
To put into perspective, the 10 out of 16 athletes the team qualified this season meant they qualified 63 percent of the roster to nationals. While last year, they qualified 55 percent of the team.
In addition to the individual performances, Abigail Bensley, junior, said after she saw Pruchnik perform in her final collegiate meet, she had no doubt about the success she accomplished for the Owls.
“[Pruchnik] is an amazing athlete and has a lot of determination,” said Bensley. “It will definitely be a loss for the gymnastics team to lose our seniors because they were a huge part in our line-ups throughout the season.”
Bensley also added that the team has already gained a number of recruits for next year in order to replace the six seniors graduating.
“So far, I know we are getting eight incoming freshmen that have great potential and could make a huge impact on our team,” Bensley said.
On the other hand, Pruchnik took her last meet at nationals very personally. After she finished her last routine, everything got emotional for her. Pruchnik said that once she got inside the van to head back home, tears started to pour down her face.
“The worst was when we got home from the airport and my roommate and I sat on the floor and just cried,” said the four-time national qualifier, “reminiscing about all the things we’re going to miss and all the great things that happened along the way.”
After 18 years, Pruchnik said she does not know what she is going to do without gymnastics in her life.
“I don’t remember a time when gymnastics wasn’t a part of my life,” Pruchnik said. “I am excited to move on, get a job and start being an athletic trainer. But maybe someday I’ll end up working with gymnastics again.”
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications