A&T: Tumbling into new year, looking for sixth ring

Baylor acrobatics and tumbling celebrates its fifth national title after winning the 2019 NCATA National Championship on April 27, 2019. Lariat File Photo

By Matthew Soderberg | Sports Writer

No. 1 Baylor acrobatics and tumbling will begin their 2020 season at 5 p.m. Saturday in Belton against a new program, Mary Hardin-Baylor.

The Bears return just 11 juniors and seniors (out of 43 total athletes) to their defending national champion squad from last season. According to head coach Felecia Mulkey, there have been grumblings of a rebuilding year for her team, but she said she is confident that they have the firepower to stay on top.

“With a young group, the hunger is there,” Mulkey said. “You get a lot of just really driven freshmen and sophomores and you roll with it. And so practice is a lot of fun. Learning new skills, seeing new athletes and different skills and they celebrate every little thing.”

She also said that with new athletes, there will be a learning curve to the beginning of the season.

“You’re going to see us build over the course of the year because you can’t expect a group of majority freshmen and sophomores to come out — I don’t want them to come out and compete and peak like they’re going to do at the national championships,” Mulkey said. “So we have a plan of how we’re going to continue to grow.”

Senior top Faith Spivey returns on the heels of winning the third-straight national championship for this class, and the fifth straight for the program. Spivey said the “championship culture” at Baylor comes from the togetherness of the team.

“I’d say we’re just a family,” Spivey said. “Like, we’re always there for each other. We all love each other, but also, when it comes to practice, we’ll have fun outside, but we will walk in and we’re … ready to practice, ready to compete. It’s all about flipping the switch.”

The Bears will face the Crusaders who are entering their first year of competition. Mary Hardin-Baylor new acrobatics and tumbling program is led by new coach Courtney Pate, a former Baylor student and acrobatics and tumbling athlete. Pate aided Baylor during its first two championships seasons in the sport. Mulkey said she is proud of the Crusader coach for what she’s been able to do in such a short time.

“She’s a Baylor Bear and one of my former athletes,” Mulkey said. “[Pate] is doing a fantastic job, so I’m excited to see her and what they’re going to do over the next couple years. And she’s nervous that it’s a sellout.”

On top of the new schools in Texas (East Texas Baptist University added a program as well), people in the sport are optimistic that the NCAA will name acrobatics and tumbling an “emerging sport” for the NCAA Division I level. Spivey said it’s an exhilarating time for the sport.

“This is something that we’ve been waiting for a while,” Spivey said. “And so now we’re waiting for the Division I in April, but even now more and more schools are adding, so it’s really exciting to have more opportunities.”