By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Samantha Vance has one of those events that just really says it all.
All-around, as a matter of fact. That's what Vance competes in for the Wilson College gymnastics team, and -- all in all -- she's pretty darn effective. The Handley High School graduate, now a junior at NCAA Division III Wilson, will begin competition today in the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association championships at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. The meet serves as the Division III national championship, and for Vance it is her first shot at competing for the all-around national title.
Vance isn't worried about her final placement, though. She's just thrilled to finally get this far.
"I guess for me, I'm less focused on where I place," Vance said. "I just want to have fun and show how much I love the sport."
Vance, who served as team captain for the Phoenix this year, turned in an almost flawless season for the Chambersburg, Pa.-based school.
"It's been an awesome year for her," Wilson coach Amy Martelli said. "I think she had only two minor mistakes all season. She just did an outstanding job for us."
Martelli said Vance probably should have qualified last season, but was hurt by Wilson's lower team standing in the Eastern College Athletic Association Division III championship meet. This year the Phoenix bounced back to finish sixth as a team, and Vance led the way with her national-qualifying effort in the all-around.
The all-around, which encompasses every gymnastics discipline -- the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise -- is the ultimate test for a gymnast because it requires complete mastery of the sport.
Naturally, that's why Vance likes it.
"Just because I like to do everything and show I can compete in all the gymnastics events," Vance said. "The floor is my best event. I'm a strong tumbler, which is really important for the floor. I'm more of a power gymnast."
Vance was at her best during Wilson's home meet on March 6 when she set a new school record on the floor with a score of 9.575.
"She's powerful, very powerful," Martelli said.
Vance will have teammate Alexandra Williams to lean on for support, and vice versa. The pair are the first Wilson gymnasts to qualify for nationals since 2006.
Whether Vance can reach Saturday's finals by finishing in the top eight today is immaterial to Martelli.
"Just going there, anything she does will be wonderful," Martelli said. "It will be a great experience for her and something she can build on for next year."
The experience as been a long time coming for Vance, who got her start in gymnastics by competing for Winchester's Shenandoah Tumblers as a grade-schooler. After her competitive days are over, Vance is interested in coaching gymnastics.
But for now, she's ready to compete.
"I'm not nervous about the meet at all," Vance said. "I want to do this and be able to say that I was there, competing with the best gymnasts in the country."