Catie Smith mounted the balance beam Saturday afternoon and tried to ignore the swirl of sound around her.
“I started my routine and everyone was loud, so I kind of tried to go slow and stay focused,” Smith said. “After my first few skills I got to my series and I had to breathe and everything. I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got to stay on.’ Once I did that, I was happy with how I did.”
The Northwestern junior dismounted and felt optimistic, but had no idea what awaited her.
Ninety minutes after standing atop the beam, Smith stood atop the podium as the balance beam state champion.
She scored a 9.625. Smith was the last gymnast up in the third of four rotations on the balance beam for competitors at the IHSAA State Finals at Worthen Arena in Muncie. Three quarters of the way through the competitors on the event, Smith had set the pace. All that remained was to see if anyone else could catch her.
“I was excited about how I did,” Smith said. It was her best beam score of the season. “I hoped to win after that, but if I didn’t, I was just so proud of myself with how I did.”
Smith and Northwestern coach Ashley Miller watched the final rotation of gymnasts from the stands. There were 48 total competitors on beam and the next-best score ended up being a pair of gymnasts who each scored 9.575. For Miller, it was tough to watch and wait to see how Smith’s score would hold up.
“I’d say it was emotional, definitely emotional,” Miller said. “When that last girl had that first big wobble, I kind of grabbed Catie and hugged her and cried because we knew we did it. I couldn’t sit down the last couple routines.”
Smith joins Jenna Tarkington, the 2002 floor exercise state champ, as the second state champion in Northwestern’s gymnastics history. Smith advanced to state on beam after a fourth-place finish at the Portage Regional. It was her second straight trip to state.
After the regional, Smith had hopes of a spot on the podium, but wasn’t thinking about the top spot.
“I thought I could do well. I didn’t think I’d do as well as I did,” Smith said. “I never thought I’d win, but I thought maybe I could place.”
A good week of practice helped give her confidence. As she was on beam Saturday, things felt right as she went through her routine.
“I knew what I could do so I thought about how I was at practice,” Smith said. “I just thought about how I worked really hard to get there, so I just wanted to get it finished.”
Miller said “everything” went right.
“She has kind of a different mount and obviously that mount is hard, so it’s easy to be off on it, but she was feeling on and knew her mount was good,” Miller said. “Her big skill is her back tuck, and she absolutely nailed that.”
That was a key moment. Getting through that cleanly made Smith confident about the rest of the routine.
“Just after I did my first skill, it was my back tuck, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve done that and I need to finish this,’” Smith said. “It calmed me down and made me excited for the rest.”
Following that skill, Smith performed her leap pass and that went off without a hitch.
“Next is her series and she completely connected her series and that went well,” Miller said. “Then her turn — nailed that. After that is her jump and that went well as well. And she always nails her dismount
“She was just on for everything. She knew exactly what she needed to do to get the job done.”
After the last competitors finished and Smith was assured of a state title, she celebrated with Miller. The event was limited to athletes, coaches and officials, and closed to spectators as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus.
“I was just really happy and proud of both of us because I know she [Miller] puts in a lot of work for me and all the other girls who are on the team this season,” Smith said. “I was happy I could make her happy about it.”