Contrary to what the record over the past three years might indicate, the Baylor acrobatics and tumbling team doesn’t just roll out of bed and win national championships.
Actually, they roll out of bed, get ready for the day, go to classes, then roll out a series of large foam mats across the floor at Baylor’s Marrs-McLean Gymnasium. Then they go to work.
And, sure, that work has usually culminated with a national championship party at the end of the season.
“After winning three, it’s really easy to get complacent or comfortable,” Baylor senior Allie Alaman said. “But as a team we really push together and push the fact that each meet is different.”
Winners of the past three National Collegiate Acrobatics and Tumbling Association championships, Baylor has established a standard of excellence under fourth-year coach Felecia “Fee” Mulkey. The Bears are 30-1 all-time under Mulkey and have yet to drop a match in the postseason.
However, they’re hardly satisfied. The Bears are hungry for fourths, as evidenced by the 2018 team motto, “Do More.”
“We want to raise the bar,” Mulkey said. “Our motto this year is do more. We want to do more than everybody else, we want to do more in the community. And when you see some of the things that we’re doing, you’ll see what I mean. Because the strength has always been there, but we’ve taken it up a notch this year, and it’s fantastic.”
The sport of acrobatics and tumbling requires precision, but it also demands power. Baylor hasn’t lacked muscle under Mulkey’s tutelage, but the team has hit the weights even harder than ever before, and the results are showing up in their lifting records and, consequently, on the mat.
“I’ve just never coached a team this physically strong,” Mulkey said, matter-of-factly.
Since scoring in A&T is directly tied into the difficulty level of a skill or stunt, Baylor’s added strength allows the Bears to heave open a previously-locked window of opportunity.
“It definitely helps our stability and skills, things like that,” Alaman said. “Honestly, it helps us to get more difficult skills, and so the more difficult skills we do, the less deductions we’ll get. The stronger we get, the cleaner we’ll do our skills, and that’s really it.”
As the Bears prepare to bound into Sunday’s season opener against Alderson Broaddus, they’ll do so without the presence of several of the program’s all-time greats. Gone are the likes of All-American base Kaelyn Cowan and two-time NCATA Most Outstanding Player Kiara Nowlin.
Yet Baylor’s pyramids don’t figure to teeter, given the solid foundation still in place. Mulkey believes senior Shayla Moore is poised for her best year yet, which is hardly small praise considering Moore is a two-time All-American.
“Knowing that this year is my last year, and knowing that I’m not going to be tumbling like this after I graduate, it’s just motivated me to go out with a bang,” said Moore, who was hobbled by some ankle pain in 2017. “It’s been really important to make Coach Fee proud, because she came in when we were freshmen, and like she said, we’re her babies.”
Baylor also will lean on senior Lauren Sturm, a tremendous tumbler and returning All-American who has won six individual NCATA titles in her career. Mulkey also believes that junior Kaylee Adams could fly from “sleeper” – Mulkey’s description – to star. Adams is a China Spring product who won a national title in duo tumbling last year.
Additionally, Mulkey promised that the starting lineup would feature a variety of impact freshmen. The roster features eight, all of whom come in with impressive credentials as All-American high school cheerleaders or gymnasts.
“We’re going to have several new faces this year, and I think they’ll kind of emerge throughout the course of the year,” Mulkey said. “But no replacing Kiara Nowlin, Kaelyn Cowan, one of our best bases, there’s really no replacing them. But some people have stepped up to the plate, and I think we’re going to be OK.”
Baylor’s match against Alderson Broaddus, a small private school located in Philippi, W.Va., will pit Mulkey against one of her former athletes. The Battlers are coached by Brandi Hanford, who competed for Baylor from 2012-15. That’s hardly uncommon anymore, though. The “Fee Tree” seems to grow new branches every year, as 11 of the 23 NCATA programs have Mulkey protégés as their head coach.
And if they’ve competed for Mulkey, they know a little something about what it takes to win.
“Coming off three national championships, it’s important that we remember they were three different teams, completely different teams,” Moore said. “Especially with the preseason polls coming out and us being No. 1, we need to execute and showcase why we need to be No. 1, and why we deserve that spot.”
Bear Facts: Baylor is ranked No. 1 in the NCATA preseason poll, while familiar nemesis Oregon came in at No. 2. Sunday’s opponent Alderson Broaddus is ranked No. 8 nationally. It marks the third straight year that Baylor will open the season at No. 1. … The Bears will have four home matches in 2018, including a Feb. 24 matchup with the No. 2 Ducks that will be televised by Fox Sports Southwest. … The NCATA now consists of 23 schools, 17 of which will field a team this year. It hopes to eventually gain “emerging sport” status from the NCAA, then grow the field of participants to at least 40 schools to gain NCAA championship status.