Maria Hayden, Herndon High’s star gymnast, could not have come back in much stronger fashion than she did for her senior season.
A year ago, Hayden missed most of the high school winter gymnastics’ season as a result of injuries. But she worked hard in order to be able to compete this winter for the Hornets. And last Saturday, she put together the finishing touches on an outstanding season and high school career by capturing first place in all-around at the Virginia State AAA individual gymnastics meet. The postseason event took place at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas.
“It’s extremely impressive because you’re dealing with the top 40 gymnasts in the state,” said Keith Naquin, the Herndon High coach. “To be No. 1 is exemplary. ”
At states, Hayden finished with a winning score of 39 points, a career-best mark. She finished first in both uneven bars and floor exercise. She is the first state champion from the Northern Region in eight years. Earlier last week, Hayden had captured the all-around title at the Northern Region championships.
“It was so gratifying [to win the state title], especially after not being able to compete last year,” said Hayden, and all-district and all-region gymnast in both her freshmen and sophomore years at Herndon. “It’s nice to finish your season with a bang.”
With Maria, she’s always pretty consistent [as a gymnast],” said Naquin. “She’s so technical and has great timing in all of the events she has worked on over the years. She’s confident competing with all the training she has had.”
Hayden, a club team member of Gymini Gymnastics in Herndon, entered her final high school season wanting to enjoy herself and to help the Hornets have a successful season. Winning a state title was not her main priority.
“In the back of my mind I wanted to win, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much because I knew the competition was real stiff and all the [competitors] were really good,” she said. “I just wanted to have a fun season.”
<b>LAST WEEKEND’S</b> state competition was a great experience for Hayden, and not just because she won. She said she enjoyed seeing several of her friends – acquaintances from Chantilly High as well as Loudoun County schools such as Broad Run, Potomac Falls and Dominion - who were also competing at the meet.
“My friends from all those schools were also there and competing,” she said.
It was quite a contrast from a year ago when she watched but was not able to compete at states.
“Last year I just observed states and remember saying, `Oh my gosh, there are so many good athletes here,” said Hayden.
Naquin said sitting out last year was probably best for Hayden, who was able to work her way back to decent health and, perhaps, gain an even better appreciation of the sport.
“It made her hungrier,” said the coach. “She totally loves to compete. She has never been completely healthy [this season] but she has learned to overcome nagging injuries. She ’s very appreciative of her [improved] health and [winning at states] is icing on the cake.”
Hayden said she would like to compete on a club team in college next school year. She was recently accepted at Penn State and is waiting to hear from James Madison University, her likely school of choice.