Kelsey Mongoven has found out in a hurry that there’s more than meets the eye when it’s your turn to be the boss.
Especially so with your alma mater’s gymnastics program, where the pressure to perform isn’t quite as high as in competitive club events.
Mongoven, a junior at Michigan State University and 2018 graduate of East Lansing High School, served one year as a Trojan assistant coach before being named head coach prior to the 2019-20 season. The level of responsibility, she said, caught her slightly off-guard.
“You don’t see everything when you’re an assistant,” Mongoven said earlier this week. “I’ve learned that the administrative part is important, too, and it takes time. Last year, I worked with the team and helped with practices. This year, I’ve scheduled buses, practice times, and filled out paperwork for regionals and all the meets. A definite eye-opener.”
A junior majoring in advertising management and psychology, Mongoven is ELi’s “Trojan of the Week” for having accepted an assignment that requires preparation, commitment and execution with the end goal of helping younger student athletes improve and perfect the skills in a sport that she thoroughly enjoys.
Before she became a member of the Red Cedar Gymnastics club, Mongoven perfected her beam skills by balancing on the edge of the sidewalk near her home and watching future Olympic stars like Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber compete in national and international events on TV. She began tumbling as a young girl, transitioned from club gymnastics to high school competitions, also played soccer and ran track.
For the past two years, Mongoven has competed with the Spartan gymnastics club, in addition to coaching the varsity Trojans.
“We’re a bit more laid-back than the university’s gymnastics team,” Mongoven said. “One of the main differences between the two, besides the overall skill, is that the club only practices three times a week, and we do not have a coach. Red Cedar staff is available for help if needed, but it’s more about us perfecting our skills rather than training hard every day to learn new skills.”
As a coach, one of Mongoven’s goals is to structure the high school program so that it benefits both the experienced gymnast as well as the one who might be trying the sport for the first time.
“We started the season with 34 girls and, because of injuries, ended the season with 24,” Mongoven said. “The numbers were way up from my senior year, when we had about eight on the team at the end. Between my assistant coaches (Brynn Van Dyke and Claire Swayze) and I, we tried to create an environment that worked for everyone.”
“We don’t have cuts, and that’s something that really differentiates our sport,” Mongoven added. “So we have some girls who take a different approach to competing. Those with a club background have a bit more serious mind-set; others trying it for the first time might have joined because their friends were getting involved. We try to emphasize that everyone is equal but they don’t have equal roles on the team. Just because you’re from club doesn’t mean you’ll always compete: we look at dedication, who comes to practice, who puts in the hard work.”
Mongoven was particularly pleased this past season with the performances of sophomore Madeleine Loomis, senior Ella Stout, and freshman Julia Ellsworth, who was one of four gymnasts from DeWitt on this year’s team.
“Madeline Loomis has been a real strength for our team, she’s our anchor,” Mongoven said. “Her skill and technique from club gymnastics has really made a difference for her. She had qualified for the state meet before it was cancelled. Julia has really good technique and training, and Ella made great improvement all season long. She’s come so far on the beam and she’s worked hard on improving her skills.”
With a full season under her belt as head coach, Mongoven and her staff are committed to developing more of a year-round approach to helping Trojan gymnasts develop their skills and technique.
“I really think that’s going to make a difference for the girls, and for the team,” Mongoven said. “I’ve seen the approach that other schools take, and I think we can do the same (at East Lansing). We had a good year but I know we can do better.”