Sports Women's Sports

“The Champ Is Here”: Tali Twomey caps off successful sophomore season with women’s gymnastics as floor exercise champion

By Danny Priest

Assistant Features Editor

Tali Twomey stood on a bright blue, squishy mat inside Blake Arena. She eagerly watched, her blue eyes full of hope, as the judges prepared to show their scores. The numbers flashed and revealed what everyone already knew.

It was a 9.900 score for the sophomore from Cotuit.

The crowd roared, and Twomey fell to her knees.

She began to cry. Not tears of tragedy, or sorrow, but of joy. Through the weeping, a smile emerged, too. The small Springfield College ‘S,’ temporarily tattooed next to her left eye was beginning to fade and smudge.

The smile she wore was a kind that only comes about every so often, in rare moments. A real, genuine, pure joy kind of smile, after years of hard work and impactful coaching that finally leads to the accomplishment of an ultimate goal.

As her team congratulated her, Twomey’s expression was a mix of the happiness and rush of winning, but also the shock factor that came with what she had just accomplished.

She hugged teammates, coaches, friends, anyone she could find. One minute a laugh would come out, and the next minute more tears. It was the type of moment that can be so rare in sports and in life. Pure happiness.

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A Coach’s Confidence: Twomey (right) high fives head coach Jenn Najuch (left) following routine during national championship (Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

Tali Twomey was officially a national champion for floor exercise.

Her mother and 12 other family members looked down from the bleachers with smiles and jaws wide open. They were crying too. Her teammates all had smiles on their faces.

On this day, everyone in the gym was wearing one. Twomey had made history by becoming only the second athlete to win a title in floor since Sarah Bryson in 1996.

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(Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

Jess Clemens, a junior, and Tali’s teammate for two years, saw the reality of what was going on in the gym that day.

“She had the biggest smile on her face,” she said. “It was the perfect time to do it. Home crowd, nationals, of all the times to do it, that was the perfect moment.”

The back wall of Blake had a black curtain draped over it. At the bottom, rested a podium for the top five finishers of each event. The No. 1 spot, standing the highest, being where Twomey would find herself not long after at the 2018 National Collegiate Gymnastics Association (NCGA) Championships.

“I was just so excited. I couldn’t believe it that I’d actually [break] the record,” she said. “It was just so crazy and the energy in the gym was just insane and so amazing.”

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(Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

Twomey put on a show for her teammates all year, and still they could not believe what she had done.

“This routine’s energy was far beyond anything I’ve ever seen her do. You could tell she was having so much fun,” said Bri Kerr, a senior who has watched Tali for two years.

The score Twomey posted is a Springfield College women’s gymnastics record, and she became the eighth student athlete since 1971 to earn a National Championship in an individual event on the finals stage.

Unfinished Business

Sunday, February 4, 2018.

Saturday, March 3, 2018.

Those two dates have significance. Those are the days Tali Twomey tied the all time record with a score of 9.825 on the floor routine. Tying the record is a big deal. But it means a lot more to break it.

That first time Twomey tied the score, Kerr told her she thought she could have broken it that day. Kerr found Tali before routine and shared a brief, but impactful statement of encouragement with her.

“I told her before she got on the floor that you’re gonna break the record today,” said Kerr. “I can feel it, they’re scoring high and you deserve it.”

Ultimately, Twomey fell short. “Tying the record the first time was amazing,” she said. “I thought wow, I actually do have the potential to break this record if I tied it.”

Then again, in early March it was as though history repeated itself. She tied again, but still could not get over the hump.

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(Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

“The second time that I tied it I thought okay, this is the second time now,” Twomey said. “What do I need to do to break it and get that record breaking score?”

So, she did what she learned to do at a young age and went right to the gym.

“Tying it twice made me work harder and figure out what little things I needed to change about my routine to get that one tenth higher,” said Twomey.

Tying twice is an honor, but in a realer sense, it’s aggravating. That lit a fire under Twomey and forced her to go as hard as she could. It was her mission to break the record now.

“It made me push harder and I guess I did get a little angry because I just wanted to break it and I knew that I potentially could,” she said. “I definitely wanted to prove to myself that I could.”

Twomey sensed that she was close. And her team did too.

“We always get frustrated because she tends to perform so well and we feel that a lot of the time she deserves better than what she gets,” said Kerr.

“It made me push harder … I guess I did get a little angry because I just wanted to break it … I knew that I potentially could.” – Tali Twomey on her drive for breaking the school’s all time floor record

All of the noise about tying only made her focus that much more. Twomey locked in on the small aspects of her routine. “I really focused on the little things in my routine which actually made a big difference in the end.”

Little things are just that, little, but when something as big as a national championship is being pursued they make all of the difference in the world.

“Some people tend to forget about the little things in their routine, but it really makes a huge impact on your score and it ultimately helped me break the school record in the end.”

A Gymnastics Upbringing

Twomey made it as a national champion, and much of that can be the result of her growing up in a gymnastics family. Her mom, Kathy, owns her own gym in Mashpee, Mass. called Flipflops Gymnastics.

From a young age, Twomey was in the gym honing her skills.

“When she was younger she kind of had no choice but to go to the gym because her dad would work, so she was with me and she was kind of thrown in there,” said Kathy.

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Born into it: With her mother Kathy owning a gym, Tali was destined to become a gymnast (Photo courtesy of Tali Twomey).

Being in the gym all the time helped to foster a passion for the sport and a love of competing.

Kathy put Tali in classes when she was only three years old. Quickly, she took a liking to the sport and wanted to do it on her own.

Twomey was mentored by her mom and her older sister, Shailey. Shailey choreographed all of Tali’s routines and worked in tandem with Kathy to keep Tali motivated.

Through strict coaching, Tali grew a lot under the guidance of her family.

“It was hard at times because I definitely rode her if she wasn’t in the gym and wasn’t working on what I thought she should be working,” Kathy said. “[But] she never gave me a problem, she’s a really good kid.”

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Hard work pays off: Twomey practicing her routine as a member of Barnstable High School (Photo courtesy of Tali Twomey)

Twomey appreciates all that was done for her now. If it wasn’t for the coaching her mom provided her they may not be as tight knit and understanding of each other as they are.

“I think that it’s brought [my mom and I] a lot closer in a sense,” Twomey said. “ It’s cool to know that she knows what I’m going through and what I’m actually doing.”

Despite growing up in a gymnastics family, Twomey was unsure whether or not she wanted to compete collegiately.  

“When I was figuring out what college I wanted to go to I was kind of thinking, ‘do I want to do college gymnastics, or do I not,’” she said. “It was my junior/senior year of high school, and I still didn’t know if I wanted to do college gymnastics.”

The decision was Twomey’s to make, but as usual she had her family guiding her along the way.

“My mom said, ‘if you don’t do gymnastics in college, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life,” said Tali.

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Success at an early age: Twomey poses with trophy earned in competition at Flipflops Gymnastics (Photo courtesy of Tali Twomey).

Late in her senior year, Twomey paid a visit to the school that would become her home for the next four years and met an important figure in her life today, Jenn Najuch.

“I don’t think she came to visit until May or June of her senior year,” recalled Najuch. “Her mom kind of pushed her to look at the school and look at the program and consider doing gymnastics in the future.”

Twomey settled on giving gymnastics a try. Considering she would one day take home the crown for floor exercise, that’s a decision Najuch appreciated.

“She didn’t really have any other plans or anything else that she wanted to do,” said Najuch. “So I think her family told her that you have this opportunity, why wouldn’t you want to take it.”

Najuch laughed before adding, “Thank goodness she did.”

Twomey had to go through her ups and downs to get there like most athletes typically do.

Since she was such a naturally talented gymnast, Tali often faced brutally high expectations for her performance.

“My mom said, ‘If you don’t do gymnastics in college, you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life.'” – Tali Twomey

“Jenn’s tough on her because she knows how good she is,’” said Kerr. “She’ll critique her pretty intensely. She’ll say stuff like, ‘Tali, you’re never going to break the record if you’re cheating your jumps.’”

At times in practice her coach would make a point to warn Twomey if what she was doing was below par.

“I do poke at her a little,” admitted Najuch. “Her routine is so flawless and she has so little mistakes that when she does make a mistake, it’s obvious. The mistake that she was making is such a simple fix if you focus on it and you concentrate on it.”

Najuch did not want to see Tali lose points off an easy fix.

“The whole season we were getting specific with jumps,” explained Najuch. “You have to take off a certain way with your feet in order for it to count, so if you cheat your feet a little bit you don’t get those extra tenths. You can lose bonus and they take off for direction.”

Challenging Twomey was nothing new, but she had to deal with pressure from outside sources too. Twice, Twomey tied the record for floor routine at 9.825, and the anticipation for her to break it seemed to mount more intensely every day.

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(Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

“Family and everybody kept going up to her and saying ‘you’re gonna break it this year, you’re gonna break it.’ So she definitely had some pressure going,” said her mom, Kathy.

Luckily, her mother knew that her daughter had thick skin, and was not going to be affected by what others thought of her.

“Tali has always been able to handle pressure,” Kathy said. “Her high school coach, who also teaches at our gym, has always considered her the rock of his team.”

Perhaps that calmness came from growing up constantly in the gym. Despite the rigorous practices and growing expectations, a constant always remained.

Her family.

Her mom especially, would do anything to watch her daughter compete.

“We went to Nationals last year in Wisconsin, she had sisters that went out with us. This year we took road trips where my husband and I drove six and a half hours twice to Ithaca,” said Kathy.

Occasionally at meets, the coach in Kathy takes over and she can’t help but provide words of encouragement, or in more extreme cases, strategy, to her youngest daughter.

“[Tali’s] so funny because sometimes her mom would give her a correction at the meet or before the meet and she’ll say, ‘I just wish my mom could be my mom,’” said Kerr.

“I’m grateful that she’s there and so supportive, and knows what I’m going through. It makes the experience a lot better.” – Tali Twomey on her mother’s impact on her gymnastics career

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(Photo via Springfield College Athletics)

Others have taken notice too.

“Her mom is her number one advocate and saw how much talent and potential that she has and still has,” said Najuch. “Now that she’s around people that have similar talent, she can kind of push her a little bit more too.”

Najuch isn’t about being out coached by Tali’s mom.

She laughed, “I kind of like it to be honest.”

Twomey may not always show it on the surface, but she appreciated her mom trying to help her. “I know where she’s coming from. I’m grateful that she’s there and so supportive, and knows what I’m going through. It makes the experience a lot better.”

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