All-Around Aggie: USU’s Heather Heinrich primed to cap distinguished career aiming for trip to Nationals

LOGAN, Utah – All-arounder. It’s the term used in gymnastics to describe the athletes who compete in all four events. From the vault to the uneven bars to the beam and the floor, the distinction can come at a physically demanding, mentally taxing and emotionally draining price for the young women who take to the floor of competition. The scars worn by the gymnasts who compete in these events are apparent, but they command a silent respect from all who marvel at their athletic achievements.Heather Heinrich is Utah State’s consummate all-arounder. Not just in the fact that she competes in the four events for the Aggies, but in her unyielding pursuit of perfection in all areas of college athletics. From her status as one of the top all-around gymnasts in the Western Athletic Conference to her numerous academic accolades, the senior embodies the term in every sense, including her outstanding leadership in helping the Aggies bounce back from one of the most disappointing years in program history.”She has meant a lot, and has become a very good leader for us,” said USU gymnastics head coach Jeff Richards, who is in his second season with the Aggies.Utah State placed third in the recent WAC Championships, equaling a program-best conference finish from 2007. The 2010 squad battled injuries all year and was short-handed in many meets, but Heinrich anchored the team with solid performances throughout the season.”She’s just been a real leader for the team as far as her work ethic goes and what you need to do to have a successful senior season,” Richards added.Heinrich has not only been the leader for the Aggies this year, but has been the team’s star as well. She earned second-team all-WAC honors on March 27 by finishing fourth in the all-around with a score of 38.950 at the WAC Championships, and holds the top five marks on the team in all-around competition for the season. Perhaps most impressive, Heinrich has competed in all-around competition in 12 of the 13 meets the Aggies competed in this year, a feat few gymnasts around the country can lay claim to.”Being a senior and doing all-around every single meet is pretty tough,” explained Heinrich, who is majoring in management information systems and is expected to graduate this spring. “It’s not really common to have seniors compete all-around every week. Training is tough. It’s hard because my body hurts a lot and it takes a toll, but you’ve got to focus on what you want in life and what you want in the sport.”Heinrich’s accomplishments haven’t been lost on her coach.”At this level – and at her age – it’s very tough. To be an all-arounder is a big deal,” Richards said.Heinrich is willing to bare the physical burdens of weekly all-around competition because of a strong desire to prove that the Aggies are a force to be reckoned with in conference play and beyond. After a disappointing season in 2009 in which she missed five meets because of illness, she came into this season not only ready to work, but ready to lead. As the team’s lone senior, Heinrich has taken it upon herself to engineer one of the most inspiring comeback stories in the sport.”The team really helps motivate me,” she explained. “This team has a lot of heart, and we really want to prove to Utah State, Logan and Utah in general that we are a strong team. We may not have done as well as we would have liked this year, but really we’re here to just do what we love and perform to the best of our abilities.”With the WAC Championships in the rear-view mirror, Heinrich’s distinguished career at Utah State is almost over. But before the Littleton, Colo., native finishes her 17-year love affair with the sport, she’ll have another chance to leave her historic mark on the Aggie program. On Saturday, April 10, Heinrich will travel to Salt Lake City with teammates Lyndsie Boone (all-around) and Jackie Dillon (bars) to compete in the NCAA Regional Championships. While the Aggies failed to qualify as a team, Richards said that Heinrich’s ability to qualify in all-around competition speaks volumes of where the program is going.”To go to regionals is a big deal,” he said. “To be a senior and qualify says a lot for our team. It says a lot that we have a strong all-arounder.”Heinrich has qualified for regionals three out of the four years she has been at Utah State, but said that going this year will be special because of missing the event last year and because of her senior status. The fact that it may be her last competitive meet as an Aggie certainly adds to the meaning of this year’s event.”Going to regionals is an honor,” Heinrich said. “Only three girls from our team are going this year, and it’s a huge honor to be able to go and represent Utah State.”As the curtain slowly closes on Heinrich’s career, there are still challenges to be met. It starts with going to regionals, but those close to the senior say that she isn’t likely to settle for ‘just’ a good showing in Salt Lake City.”She’s not going to settle for just this,” said Richards. “We go one meet at a time here, but I know her Grandpa has told her ‘you have three more meets yet – conference, regionals, and nationals,’ and we think she has a good shot at qualifying for nationals.”Heinrich is reluctant to speculate whether or not she’ll be able to make it to nationals, but in either case she said that her Aggie career has been one of nothing but positives. After the disappointments of 2009, the senior is more than happy to have put USU back on the path towards success, and more than ready to savor a final chance to compete with the teammates and friends who have inspired her along the way.”It’s definitely been memorable and has been quite an experience in terms of what we’ve had to work through and persevere through all year,” Heinrich said. “For me personally it has been a great team to work with. I’ve had great experiences and I have no regrets, and have loved every second of it.”Tickets for the NCAA North Central Regional Championships range from $5-13. For more information, contact the Utah Athletics Ticket Office at 801-581-UTIX (8849) or www.utahtickets.com.The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) from each regional will receive an automatic berth to the national championships in Gainesville, Fla., April 22-24, hosted by the University of Florida.In addition, the event winners at the regional championships will advance to the national championships (in that event only) if they are not part of a qualifying team or the all-around qualifiers.For more information regarding the National Collegiate Women’s Gymnastics Championships, log on to www.NCAA.com.Fans can follow the Aggie gymnastics program at twitter.com/USUGymnastics, and can get score updates. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at twitter.com/USUAthletics.-USU-

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