For the past three years, Rachel Hillen has watched as other gymnasts have led the Niwot team.
The Niwot squad usually produces some of the better all-around gymnasts in the state. Along the way, Hillen was a crucial part of the varsity team, but never the leader.
Now she’s a senior and the responsibility of guiding the squad falls upon her shoulders, as well as fellow captains Ariel Mosier and Kayla Overfield.
“It’s pretty important to me,” Hillen said of being a captain. “I feel like I have a responsibility now to lead the team and make sure the girls are staying on top and learning new stuff.”
A two-time state qualifier, Hillen is a key figure on a team in transition. Niwot lost its top-end talent from last year, as Debi Johnson and Nikki Longstreth both graduated. That means Niwot will depend on Hillen more than ever.
“This year I think I’ll definitely be higher up there than past years,” she said.
Gymnastics has been a part of Hillen’s life for more than a decade. The 17-year-old began doing gymnastics at 6 years old.
“I’ve done a lot of different sports, but gymnastics is the only one I’ve stayed with,” said Hillen, who also played soccer for a while. “It’s the one I’ve always been the most competitive in.
“I like the challenge of it and I like getting new skills. I just enjoy doing it.”
Hillen competes in all four events — vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise — but lists the floor as her favorite because she likes the tumbling involved.
A year ago, she competed in the vault at state. As a sophomore in 2009, she competed in the bars, beam and floor at state.
“Going to state is fun because there’s always really amazing gymnasts there that you can watch,” she said. “It’s nerve-racking competing at state, too.”
Whether she gets there this year is unknown. Niwot doesn’t have the depth of talent it has had in recent years, so qualifying as a team will be a challenge. There is still good talent on the roster, however.
Along with Hillen, junior Courtney Jeffres, sophomore Allie Koldeway, Mosier and Overfield all competed at the Class 5A state meet a year ago.
“We are very excited that another season has started,” head coach Mallorie Lang said. “I think that we will have a great season.”
Hillen hopes to do her part to make sure Niwot has another great season.
“I definitely want to go all out and do my best and make my last year a good one,” she said.
Brian Howell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.