By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer
Baylor acrobatics and tumbling is gearing up to defend its title yet again as the new season gets underway against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the Ferrell Center. The team will be competing to win their seventh consecutive national championship, all under head coach Felecia Mulkey.
The Bears were voted the favorite this season in the NCATA Preseason Coaches’ Poll. They received 29 of the 31 ballots to claim the top spot. Mulkey said being the defending national champs doesn’t add any pressure because the pressure is always there.
“I don’t think it’s added, we feel it every year,” Mulkey said. “We try not to put pressure on ourselves and just focus on us. Everybody else focuses on us so we’re going to focus on us too.”
Although a national title is the goal, Mulkey said the team is more set on getting better every day and making sure they continue to have fun with what they do.
“We try to get a little better everyday,” Mulkey said. “Our goal at the end of the year, [is] everybody will say, ‘Man, I would do this again,’ then we might accidentally win, but our goal is to make it so much fun and it sounds so cheesy, but why would we do it if it wasn’t fun? Yes, we’re going to try and win a national championship, for sure, but day-to-day our goal is to get a little bit better, laugh and enjoy each other.”
In her 10 seasons as head coach, Mulkey has won nine national championships. She said she has no intentions of letting up, and is always going to try her best to win every year. Although she said she is no John Wooden, she referenced the legendary University of California, Los Angeles basketball coach who won 10 national titles in 12 seasons with the Bruins.
“What were people telling John Wooden when he was winning 12 in a row?” Mulkey asked. “Everybody wants the underdog to win. Heck, even I want the underdog to win. I’m going to keep trying to win until somebody beats me, I’m not going to lower the bar. I told our group of coaches a few years ago, ‘Come and get me,’ that’s what this is all about.”
Junior tumbler Emily Tobin said there is a lot of confidence, strength and fun on the team. She said they know they aren’t going to be handed anything, but they’re looking forward to competing this season.
“I’m really excited because it’s been a wild fall semester working hard,” Tobin said. “We’re ready to get out there and start competing … The strength is definitely there, it’s just which team is mentally strong enough and who can perform their best day. We’re kind of expanding our horizons and trying different skills, so it’s been fun and I hope to showcase them.”
Despite all her success in the sport, Mulkey is a big advocate for the sport to grow more at the collegiate level. Acrobatics and tumbling is not considered championship status by the NCAA, but rather by the NCATA. There has to be at least 40 schools with teams of 18 or more athletes on the roster to be recognized by the NCAA. Recently, the 39th school, West Virginia State University, joined and Mulkey is very happy to see it growing. She expects a 40th school to join in the next couple of months. However, she doesn’t want the sport to stop there.
“It’s going to be a big deal,” Mulkey said. “Come and find me when we get 40, I’ll be jumping really high – maybe doing a flip. It’s going to be exciting, but we need 45 or 50. Forty is the benchmark, then we’ll go, ‘Okay, what’s next?’”