Rise above the rest: Acro stars make difference in national championship season

Sophomore Shayla Moore (left) and junior Kiara Nowlin (right) celebrate during the Bears’ meet against No. 2 Oregon in the NCATA national championships final at the Ferrell Center. The Bears went on to win the meet and their second consecutive national title. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

With a total of 38 athletes, the Baylor acrobatics and tumbling team competed for four days straight during the 2016 NCATA Championship. Just as every team has their highlighted bunch, a few from Baylor A&T earned high recognition and praise throughout.

Competition began on Saturday with individual events and ended with awards as three Baylor athletes, including sophomore base Shayla Moore, junior top base Kiara Nowlin and junior base Kaelyn Cowan, earned All-American honors.

“They’re spark plugs. If they’re having a great day, everyone has great day,” head coach Felecia Mulkey said about the All-Americans. “You can see that from the stands, and they’re just so much fun to work with.”

These athletes continued their “great days” throughout the tournament, helping the Bears to an advantage over each team including No. 8 Gannon University and No. 4 Hawaii Pacific University all the way to repeating a National Championship over No. 2 Oregon.

Coming into the competition, Nowlin and Mulkey both emphasized the team’s phrase for the road to the championship: “Never Settle.” It was printed on the backs of t-shirts for the Bears.

Nowlin displayed this mentality during her perfect score in the tumbling 6-Element event on both the second and third day of team competition versus Gannon and HPU.

Moore met her with a chest bump at the end of the mats each time. It was the third time this season she had earned a perfect score.

“It’s really hard to judge how you’re going to land coming out of that skill,” Nowlin said. “So I smile when I do the landing that I want to do.”

Moore and Cowan were a part of several high-scoring events throughout the tournament including a perfect scoring Pyramid against Gannon, a nearly perfect 9.95 against HPU and a 9.90 against Oregon. Moore also was a part of the Acro 5-Element and Pyramid event that won the national title during individual competition on Thursday.

A breakout athlete was sophomore Lauren Strum, who blew away the crowd during her Open and Duo Tumbling event, alongside Freshman Kaylee Adams. The duo took the national title in the indvidual championships on Saturday, while outscoring Gannon 9.75 to 8.05 on Sunday.

“It felt really well to hit [duo] again. It just reassures that we’re consistent,” Strum said. “They picked the right people, and we’re doing well.”

Strum scored a 9.875 in Open against Gannon and further improved with 9.925 against HPU to edge both teams. She also edged Oregon with a 9.90 while also hitting a 9.95, a season high, in Duo with Adams.

“It was so amazing and probably the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Adams said. “It was just so amazing doing it next to Lauren Strum. I knew we had hit it.”

The Ferrell Center erupted during the Team Routine against Oregon as Baylor closed the four-day long competition with their second-straight championship, winning 286.275-282.305.