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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Mommy and Me' classes.
That's what started it all for freshman Kristen Politz.
Politz began to practice gymnastics with her mother when she was four years old. Soon after attending the classes, she fell in love with the sport and had no desire to stop.
"I love always improving, getting new skills and just trying to get better each week," Politz said.
Even at a young age, it was evident that Politz was an extremely talented gymnast. She continually practiced and at 12 years old, she had qualified for the Level 10 USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championship meet six-consecutive times. During her senior year of high school, she was named the 2016 New Jersey Optional Gymnast of the Year across the Levels 7, 8, 9 and 10. She also captained her high school gymnastics team, at Saint John Vianney, to a second-place finish at the New Jersey State Championships.
"We started watching her when she was in eighth grade and just really liked what we saw," head coach Jeff Thompson said. "We watched her improve, progress and go from the Junior Olympic level to the Elite level for a little while before she came back to level 10. If I had to pick one thing about Kristen, the best would have to be her consistency in competition. It seemed like even if she had bad warm ups or the coach may have said she had a bad week, she was always able to step up under pressure and hit. That's the main thing for us - to get out there in a leotard in front of 5,000 people, be confident and hit your routines."
Nonetheless, it wasn't just gymnastics that held Politz's focus; she was actively involved in academics. In high school, she was named one of 30 New Jersey State Scholar-Athletes, held a four-year place on the Honor Roll of Distinction, was in the National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society and won the 2016 President's Education Award for Outstanding Academic Excellence.
"My high school accomplishments made me more confident coming into Penn State and I think a lot of the things I was able to achieve in high school helped me to be where I am at this point," Politz said.
She continues to show that as a Nittany Lion.
"The thing that separates Kristen from the other freshmen is her leadership ability," coach Thompson said. "She got accepted into the Sapphire Leadership Program here, and it's 50 freshmen that get invited out of 7,000. She's also part of our leadership committee. There's representation from all four classes and she is the freshmen representative."
The women's gymnastics team is only three meets into the season, and Politz is showing that she even though she may be young, she brings a lot of experience and skills to all the events.
Politz made her collegiate debut in the first meet of the season against BYU, Temple and Bowling Green. She started on the uneven bars and finished with a score of 9.775 to tie for eighth. She also tied for third (9.800) on balance beam and notched second (9.675) on floor.
"I like floor the best because there's so much enthusiasm. And I like dancing and having a powerful floor routine," Politz said.
In the second meet of the season against Nebraska, Politz completed in her first collegiate all around and finished third overall with a 39.050. She tallied 9.875 on the uneven bars, a 9.625 on the vault, a 9.750 on floor and a 9.800 on the balance beam.
"My experience has been amazing," Politz said. "Each meet, I'm learning something new. I just love the team aspect and all the excitement and energy that I get. It's a lot different than the feel in Junior Olympics."
When the Nittany Lions collected their fourth win of the season against Maryland, Politz was again there to help. She tied her career-best all around score of 39.050 for second place. She placed fourth in the vault (9.750), uneven bars (9.775), balance beam (9.700) and floor (9.825).
Even with the early success, Politz still has some skills that she hopes to build on.
"I need to make little improvements here and there to boost our all around score and our team score," Politz said. "I want to continue to be consistent and as a team, I want to try to get up in the rankings. Going into Big Ten's, I want to be really consistent and confident."
Outside of gymnastics, this freshman loves to hang out with friends, shop and just relax. But now, she's focused on her success at Penn State.
"She's able to look at this as a journey and where she was in the first meet of the year isn't where she plans to be at the end of the year, and most freshmen don't get that," coach Thompson said. "She's very mature for her age and we're glad she's here."