Since sixth grade, Anna Smith has been involved in cheerleading. The Marengo High School graduate assumed her interest would follow her to college at Concordia University Wisconsin.
“As I was digging deeper into their website, I noticed acrobatics & tumbling,” she said. “I had an interview with the coaches, I tried out, and I made the team.”
Now a junior at the Mequon, Wisconsin, school, Smith is one of only about 300 athletes nationally competing in acrobatics & tumbling. Twenty-three colleges and universities sponsor the sport, which combines several different disciplines. Concordia’s program is entering its fourth season.
“We say it’s the child of gymnastics and cheerleading,” Smith said. “It’s a mixture of both. The technique from gymnastics is there throughout the sport. A lot of co-ed cheerleading stunts are involved, even though it’s all female.”
Concordia has 18 athletes on the roster this season, all of whom come from various backgrounds.
“Every athlete we get comes from their own unique background, and they bring their own skill set that we can utilize,” said Concordia coach Sarah Koenig, who competed in the sport at the University of Oregon. “That’s one of the things that makes it so unique and so fun to be involved in.”
The team opens its season Saturday at Gannon University in Pennsylvania and has home meets this month against Oregon, Baylor and Azusa Pacific.
Koenig said the sport not only draws athletes from gymnastics and cheerleading backgrounds but also those from tumbling and even diving.
According to its governing body, the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association, the sport began in 2011. In the past year, six new programs have started. They represent a broad geographic scope from Hawaii to West Virginia and from Wisconsin to Texas.
All events are sanctioned by USA Gymnastics, however the NCATA is working with the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics to have it recognized as an emerging sport.
“I like how it’s a new, up-and-coming sport,” Smith said. “Everybody at the school is really proud of what we’re doing. They say, ‘This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.’”
Teams compete head to head in six events – Compulsory, Acro, Pyramid, Toss, Tumbling and Team.
The Team event, which is “the grand finale” of a meet, according to Smith, is a 2½-minute performance that combines aspects of all the other events. Like gymnastics, teams begin with a score of 10 and receive deductions from the judges based on performance.
“We all combine to work as a team very well,” Smith said. “We all excel at different skills. We’re able to learn from each other, as well as the coaches. My best skills come out in Acro, since I grew up in stunting.”
Smith’s position is called base, which means she’s at the foundation of many of the team’s stunts, which involve lifting and catching other teammates. According to Koenig, a good base has excellent core strength, balance and athleticism.
“Anna is a very good athlete,” Koenig said. “She’s developed a lot of new skills.”
One of the team’s biggest skills has been growing its local fan base.
Koenig said the team’s meets are “very well attended” and the number of local youths taking part in two annual camps that highlight the sport also has grown.
“I have professors asking when our meets are,” Smith said. “A lot of professors want to bring their kids out to see it. It really helps promote the school and our sport.”
Sparking Lewis: Marian Central grad Adam Pischke hit a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds remaining Sunday at Quincy to help D-II Lewis University’s men’s basketball team to a 76-75 victory.
Pischke, a sophomore guard for the Flyers, scored seven points in his team’s 18-4 run to end the game, eliminating a 13-point deficit.
Pischke scored 11 points and dished out five assists against Quincy to help Lewis (10-11) claim the victory.
Thanks to his effort against Quincy, Pischke is averaging a career-best 11.6 points a game. He scored a career-high 30 points Jan. 13 in a 80-79 loss to Indianapolis.
Champaign hot streak: Sophomore 125-pound wrestler Travis Piotrowski (Prairie Ridge) has the third-most wins this season for the University of Illinois with a 12-5 individual record.
Piotrowski posted a 14-0 victory last weekend in the Illini’s 25-18 Big Ten dual meet win against Maryland. The victory gave Illinois its 10th consecutive home victory, one shy of tying the school record.
Piotrowski won his weight class earlier this season at the Roadrunner Open at Cal State Bakersfield.
Illinois (5-3) is ranked 14th nationally and has a 4-2 Big Ten record.
Rocking it at Rockford: Harvard grad Lindsay Melson, a senior at D-III Rockford University, has broken the school’s weight throw record in back-to-back weeks during the indoor track and field season.
Last weekend at the UW-Platteville Select meet, Melson posted a throw of 40 feet, 7¾ inches to place 12th in the competition.
She owns the fifth-best weight throw this season in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference.
On Jan. 20, her throw of 40-7 was good for fifth place at the UW-Parkside Ranger Relays. Her season-best shot put effort of 30-10½ ranks 15th in the conference.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.