Iowa State gymnastics owes, at least in part, its first Big 12 all-around championship in 13 years to a job transfer and a little bit of good fortune.
Living in the south, the Cyclones weren’t much on the mind of middle schooler Haylee Young.
“I had never even thought about Iowa State when I lived in Georgia,” she said. “When I was little, I always went to the Gym Dog meets.
But when her father transferred jobs to central Iowa her freshman year of high school, Young was dropped in the Cyclones’ backyard. With that came a world-class training opportunity at Liang Chow’s gym, which trained Olympians Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas in West Des Moines.
It was there that Young had her first encounter with ISU coach Jay Ronayne, who at the time, had a former teammate of Young’s, Milan Ivory, as a freshman on his roster.
“My first introduction to Haylee” Ronayne said, “was when she walked up to me, this little blonde kid and said, ‘Do you know Milan Ivory?’ I said, ‘Know her? She’s a freshman on my team. Of course I know her. I see her every day,’ and she told me who she was.
“About a year later, I had a chance to see Haylee compete and next thing I realized this little kid is actually really good, too. So I just kept an eye on her from there and tried to get her and her family interested in Iowa State.”
— Haylee Young
That’s exactly what Ronayne did, and it led to Young scoring a 39.125 in the all-around competition at last week’s Big 12 Championship to earn ISU first title there since Sissy Huey accomplished the feat in 2002.
“Any time anyone is the best at anything,” Ronayne said, “it’s a big deal. I think it was pretty awesome that Haylee as a freshman gets this honor.
“She’s not even close to being as good as she’s going to be so that adds a little excitement to our program.”
The Cyclones training regimen doesn’t include setting goals for a conference title, but it’s that process that helps lead to such accomplishments.
“Conference championship and stuff like that,” Ronayne said, “it doesn’t have much bearing on what we do. We try to focus on the stuff that we are completely in control of.
“Wins and things like that, that’s specifically out of our control. For them, we try to focus on tangible things we can do.”
As such, the conference championship came as a bit of a surprise to Young, who trained at Triad Gymnastics in Ankeny her senior year of high school.
“It was a crazy moment for me just because I never thought about winning,” she said. “I never thought it would happen at all, honestly, so it was really cool.
“I just went in thinking about hitting every routine that I put up. Honestly, that’s all you can think about because if you think about the outcome or the win or who’s winning, that just kind of messes with your mind.”
Developing that type of mind-set has been a focus of Young’s improvement in her first collegiate season.
“It is hard to keep your mental focus tight,” she said, “but that’s all part of experience and learning. I’ve really matured a lot in that way this year.”
What she’s already accomplished this season has her coach thinking big for what she might accomplish the rest of her career.
“She’s destined to be an All-American, I know that,” Ronayne said. “Just when that will happen — sophomore year, junior year, senior year, all three — I don’t know.”
The Cyclones and Young are just happy that whatever she accomplishes, the trophies will be coming back to Ames.
“I’m so glad my dad was transferred here,” she said, “because I can’t picture myself anywhere else.”