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Freshman gymnast provides significant depth

BY JACK ROSSI | MARCH 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Gymnasts who compete get all the glory, but gymnasts such as freshman walk-on Zach Wendland provide the backbone to nationally elite programs such as Iowa.

The Olathe, Kan., native began gymnastics through a friend when he was younger, and he excelled as a prep gymnast before sending out videos his senior year of high school to universities. Toward the end of recruitment, Wendland’s choice was between two of the top Division I gymnastics schools in the country — Iowa and Stanford.

“It basically came down to Iowa and Stanford,” he said. “I was waiting to see if I got accepted to Stanford, and I didn’t, so I ended up signing here.”

Transitioning to college is a hard. No longer is gymnastics an individual sport in college, and mistakes can affect others on the team. However, junior Will Albert has seen the progress and effort to succeed at the next level.

“I think the hardest part of transitioning from a junior program to a college program is upgrading your skills to the college level, and right away, he came in and was an impact on vault,” Albert said.

The NCAA only allows 6.3 scholarships per team and although Wendland is not on a scholarship, he tries to make the most of his time and prove that he belongs on the team.

“It’s a lot different than being on scholarship,” Wendland said. “But it’s kind of nice at the same time, because nothing is really expected of you. If you’re a scholarship athlete, I feel like you’re expected to contribute, whereas if you’re a walk-on, you’re not expected to do anything, and if you do, then it looks like you’re going above and beyond.”

Head coach JD Reive sees walk-on athletes such as Wendland as a vital part of keeping consistency within the team. Wendland’s role on the team is an unrewarded one.

“His whole job as a walk-on, and somebody who is not in the lineup, is to be as consistent and to keep improving on the event that he’s doing to so that he keeps pressure on our guys that are in our top five in the lineup,” Reive said. “They know that if they falter, then he will come in and take their spot.”

Wendland right now backs up vault and high bar — some of Iowa’s most consistent events — so it is very important that those kinds of role players keep applying pressure to the top guys in the lineup. If they don’t, it could bring down the whole team’s score down.

“If he lets up, then guys could become complacent, so it is very important that he works hard,” Reive said.

Wendland’s future looks bright. Reive sees high potential in him on vault despite not competing so far this season.

“He has a vault that could potentially be in our lineup,” Reive said.

While the role this year is one that’s behind the curtains, Wendland hopes to compete on vault and high bar next year and sees himself as a contributor for years to come with some valuable gymnasts graduating in the near future.

“Next year, I want to compete on vault and high bar for sure and possibly floor,” Wendland said. “Then, when I am an upperclassman, I want to add rings.”


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