Back in the third meet of the Arizona gymnastics season, head coach Bill Ryden made a lineup change in his uneven bars team. Instead of senior leader Allison Flores, who had been the anchor since March 2014, freshman Victoria Ortiz would compete at the sixth position.
Although she only competes in one event for the Wildcats, Ortiz is a big reason why Arizona is ranked No. 17 in the nation on bars. The Tucson native from Sahuaro High School proved her skill set in the latest meet against ASU on Monday, scoring a career-high 9.900 on her bars routine.
Many might cave under the pressure of going last in an event, but Ortiz embraces it.
“It’s really rewarding,” Ortiz said. “At first, it was nerve-racking, and I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant. It’s definitely a privilege to be the anchor on bars. I feel really privileged and really blessed.”
Ryden said he feels the same way. Many coaches might refrain from using a freshman in that place, especially if a team has to count a fall, but Ryden has a lot of confidence in Ortiz.
“I think she is just happy-go-lucky Victoria, and that is the reason why I put her back there,” Ryden said. “She’s not going to get caught up; she’s just going to do her routine, and it is virtually flawless. From a mental standpoint, she does not get stressed. I think even though she is a freshman, I think she is the perfect anchor for this team.”
Ortiz now has the opportunity to inspire the young gymnasts who dream of competing for the GymCats as a collegiate athlete. Ortiz competed for eight years at Arizona Dynamics under Gina Mueller and Tricia Oagle in Tucson. For someone who grew up in Tucson, the dream of becoming a collegiate gymnast has now become a reality.
“That was probably the most exciting part — when I was younger, being in the stands and looking at the girls and wishing that one day I would be just like them,” Ortiz said. “Being on the floor and looking up at all of my family and friends is just such a good feeling.”
Instead of being a fan in the stands, eyeing what might be, Ortiz now signs autographs and takes pictures after meets. Although Ortiz has started her collegiate career as a success, it wasn’t always that way.
“Considering the hard work that she had to do to get here being a Tucson kid, growing up wanting to be on this team, she had some struggles — not personal — in high school to get here,” Ryden said. “I honestly think a success story is as good as anything. When she came here, her parents were just so thankful that she was apart of the program, and look at what she’s done.”
This success story has the opportunity to become the perfect storybook ending for Ortiz and goes to show the recruiting powers of Ryden and the rest of the GymCat coaches. As the end of the regular season approaches, having the ability to count on a freshman truly speaks for the depth of this Arizona team.
Follow Matt Wall on Twitter.