By Joe Pratt | Broadcast Reporter
Acrobatics and tumbling base Kate Puentes is one of the most experienced athletes at Baylor. The senior has competed in every acrobatics and tumbling event since joining the six-time defending national champions in 2019. However, Puentes said the squad’s success is a result of teammates motivating one another to perform at their fullest potential.
“It’s been such a journey to be a part of a team that is so talented and continues to push each other daily because we’re just trying to beat each other at this point,” Puentes said. “Competing against each other and seeing what new skills we can get, it’s a really cool environment.”
Success is nothing new to the California native. In 2014, Puentes won a national championship for all-star cheerleading before winning two more in a Baylor uniform. While national titles may seem automatic at this point, the women compete as if they’ve never won a single meet.
“We’re not thinking about the national championship,” Puentes said. “Our coach really ingrained into us just to focus on meet by meet … the end goal is to win a national championship and we’re working towards that, but that’s not where our sights are throughout the entire season. We’re just working hard and we just want to be the best that we can put out there and show everyone”
Acro and tumbling is one of the most unique sports to recruit for, with each athlete coming from a different background. The 54-person roster consists of former cheerleaders, gymnasts and dancers who all convert their past skills to a new craft. Head coach Felicia Mulkey said various sporting histories help build a well-rounded squad.
“They’re from different backgrounds [with] similar skill sets,” Mulkey said. “Some have strengths in different areas, and the fall is really spent building that strong core foundation, but also finding common ground for all of the student athletes.”
When recruiting a potential member, Mulkey says she first notices a player’s abilities. For Puentes, Mulkey first noticed her personal interaction and demeanor on the floor.
“Kate is a little bit of an energizer bunny,” Mulkey said. “She’s the emotional backbone for the team, always has been. [She] worked her tail off skill wise, but I think emotionally is a great leader for our team too.”
While Mulkey said Puentes has always had an “energizer bunny” impact, growing her skills took some time. Puentes’ transformation to acro and tumbling caused some growing pains, but she managed to never miss a beat.
“I think it’s gaining confidence,” Puentes said. “You’re coming [into a] sport and don’t know how it works [or] what you do, learning a lot of new skills and communicating with different people. I think after you do that first year, you’re like, ‘Okay, I feel like I’ve got the hang of this a little bit,’ then you start to feel confident.”
At the base position, Puentes is rarely the center of attention, being the foundation for her teammates and allowing them to be the star of the ensemble.
“Pulling people up around her isn’t always about Kate to Kate” Mulkey said. “It’s about letting other people around her shine, and I think that’s hard to accomplish, and it’s really cool to see in college students.”
For the remainder of her final season, Puentes plans to continue to compete in every event possible. After graduation, the kinesiology major hopes to attend graduate school for nutrition and dietetics in what she says is a new route for her. But before future endeavors, Puentes and the Bears will chase her third collegiate national title personally, and Baylor’s seventh in a row.
“I think we’re definitely on a good track,” Puentes said, “I think that’s definitely the end goal, and we’re excited to compete hard and just train until we get to that point and be able to put our best out there.”