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For a gymnast who ranks second nationally in the vault, Saturday is the first event in Erin Davis' own version of a triple crown. So if you're a Nebraska fan, be in your seat at the Devaney Center by 2 p.m.
Nebraska's first two events in the 2010 Big 12 Conference Women's Gymnastics Championships are floor exercise and vault, and it would be a shame if you missed watching the Huskers' most explosive gymnast execute her only two events in her final appearance at home this season.
Just about any gymnastics team would rather finish on floor than start on it, but who knows? Davis, who has one floor event title this season compared to six on vault, may just soar to new heights and give the No. 12 Huskers a chance to challenge or even upset second-ranked Oklahoma.
Three things are certain. She will be highly motivated. She will be fearless, and she will be pain free.
Davis will be highly motivated because both parents from Round Rock, Tex., a suburb of Austin, will be in Lincoln this weekend to celebrate their daughter's second straight All-Big 12 honor at the conference meet, plus birthday No. 21 on Monday.
She will be fearless because, unlike her first two years in a Husker uniform, she no longer suffers from the inflammation and irritation in both Achilles tendons after a successful surgical procedure last April.
She has been free from that chronic pain since Nebraska coaches and team doctors made the decision to quit treating the symptoms for repetitive strains and see if surgery could increase the blood flow to the muscles that generate the power for pushing off with the foot or going up on the toes.
This Gymnast Appreciates Her Orthopedic Surgeon
Erin Davis loves every one of her gymnastics coaches, but she's also a big fan of Dr. Scott Strasburger, the former Husker Academic All-America defensive end. He performed the surgery that changed the physical and psychological mindset of a 5-foot-3 Husker junior who wants to soar in the vault and on the floor without worrying about sticking a landing or tearing a tendon.
"I used to get a very sharp pain every time I ran and every time I tumbled," she said.
The chronic pain didn't take her out of Nebraska's lineup or force a decision to redshirt. But every time she practiced or competed, "I always thought to myself: 'I hope it doesn't tear on this vault' or 'I hope it doesn't tear on this tumble.'"
That is no way to compete, especially when you're as explosive as Erin Davis is. Team doctors told NU's coaches and Davis that surgery usually isn't performed until an Achilles is actually torn.
"You never know what you're going to get when you do surgery like Erin had, but looking back, I wish we'd done the procedure sooner," said Nebraska Assistant Coach Tim Garrison, who coaches Davis on vault and supervises her power and tumbling components on floor ex.
"Erin has definitely gained in all areas of her performance after the procedure," Garrison said.
"I've gone from chronic tendonitis to no tendonitis," she said.
The competitive benefits are obvious. Physically, she's pain free, and that fuels her confidence. Mentally, there's nothing to hold Erin Davis back anymore.
Big 12, Then Regional, Then NCAA Championships
It will be interesting to see how high Davis can climb, beginning this weekend. Her coaches think she has a legitimate chance to win her own version of a triple crown that begins with Saturday's Big 12 Championships, continues with an April 10 NCAA Regional at a site yet to be determined and concludes with the most important event of all - the NCAA Championships at the University of Florida April 22-24 in Gainesville.
"She's a contender to win all three," Garrison said. "Ask anyone. Erin has what it takes to win."
The potential in bigger meets, of course, is based on performance standards she's already achieved. She posted Nebraska's first perfect 10.0 score on vault since Emily Parsons in 2007. Her 9.935 average is tied for second nationally, just .05 of a point behind national leader Susan Jackson of LSU.
Her reputation is firmly established in the vault, but she's also building high-level credibility in floor, where she posted a career high 9.9 to win the event title against Michigan. Davis has been named Big 12 Event Specialist of the Week twice this year. In the video link above, she describes how she achieved a perfect score in a meet against Minnesota and Illinois. She also explains why this weekend's conference meet is so important to her and her teammates.
"Bottom line, she just goes about her business and gets things done," Nebraska Head Coach Dan Kendig said. "Since the first day we saw her compete in high school, she's been a very, very powerful gymnast, and now that she can compete without all that pain, she's taking herself to a whole new level. She's capable of a 9.9 or better every time in both events. She has been and can continue to be phenomenal."
That's high praise from someone who's been National Coach of the Year twice and Big 12 Coach of the Year six times. Because he's recruited and coached 27 gymnasts who have combined to win 96 All-America honors, Kendig has a keen eye for talent.
A Special Recruiting Day for Two Tired Coaches
He still remembers taking a mid-summer recruiting trip four years ago with Danna Durante, NU's associate head coach who coordinates and choreographs Davis in floor exercise. It was one of those long journeys where both coaches became a little fatigued, not to mention disappointed when they weren't seeing the high-caliber athletes they were hoping to find.
"We were looking for that wow factor, so we decided to continue on to Austin," Kendig said. "At the time (the summer before Davis' senior year), Erin was kind of untapped and a little unknown."
When Kendig and Durante saw Davis execute a vault minutes after they walked into the gym to see her perform for the first time, they didn't have to say anything. Their eyes said it all. "Erin was flat-out phenomenal," Kendig said. "We both knew, right then and there, that we'd found the wow factor we were looking for."
On that hot summer day, watching a grueling workout, Kendig and Durante could see the power in Erin Davis' legs and could gauge the courage in her heart. They appreciated her personality and felt like they'd just found a diamond in the roughest part of a recruiting trip - one they almost decided to skip.
Davis' mom, Simira, and her dad, Michael - both professional business managers in Austin - have always seen the superstar potential in their only child, and they must be thinking "Oh, how the years go by" as they prepare to celebrate a milestone birthday with her this weekend.
Erin has heard the story countless times - how her mom took her to day care at age 3 and how her day care workers took her to a gymnastics center on a field trip. Every day, when Simira Davis would pick up Erin after work, day care workers would tell her about Erin asking when they were going to do gymnastics again. By age 4, her mom enrolled her in a gymnastics school and by 7, she was competing and moving up competitively year after year.
"It's been a lifelong passion," Erin said, adding that she loves Nebraska and especially enjoys the camaraderie of her teammates and the positive spirit of her coaches.
Stone's Surgery Puts Tough Season in Perspective
She feeds off the energy and emotional support from teammate Kylie Stone, the 2009 Big 12 Co-Gymnast of the Year and one-time Olympian whose final year as a Husker was cut short by - ironically - a torn Achilles. True to her own style of leadership, Stone still attends every Husker practice and every meet and does what she can to keep Nebraska Women's Gymnastics moving forward.
Stone's absence in competition has had a dramatic effect on the Huskers. It has pointed a spotlight on a junior who wasn't necessarily prepared for it, but Davis has adjusted well anyway. She has, in fact, become a better leader and a better student. She concentrates on each daily challenge and refuses to worry about national rankings, individual seeds or whether her Regional will be in Columbia, Mo., or somewhere else.
When Davis steps on the mat Saturday for that first floor exercise routine or stands on the runway staring at her first Big 12 vault, she will tell herself what she always does: "Stay tight and wait for the landing."
Those are cardinal rules for Erin Davis. Nowhere, not even in the back of her mind, will there be a shred of doubt about sticking a landing or tearing a tendon.
Motivated, fearless and pain free. "That just makes Erin all the more powerful and more explosive," Kendig said. "I'm glad we recruited her. It's been a win-win for everyone."Respond to Randy