As a just freshman, University of Alabama gymnast Maddie Desch competes with a steadiness that rivals many veterans.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Not now, not ever.
“Maddie Desch, an international senior elite, is very hard on herself, but that’s what makes her successful,” UA coach Dana Duckworth said even before the season started. “What I love is that we’re helping her find the love of the sport again.”
Before joining the Crimson Tide, Desch functioned at the elite level. Big moments featured an individual all-around silver medal at the 2015 Pan American Games, where Team USA also took home the team gold, and being a member of the U.S. gold-winning 2014 World Championship team.
Even with those global highlights, Desch doesn’t talk much about her elite days with current Alabama teammates. That is her past. This is her present, and she’s embracing it without looking back.
“She’s not necessarily a new Maddie, but she’s a new Maddie,” junior Kiana Winston said. “She’s just blossoming as a college gymnast.”
May 28, 2016 marked the end of Desch’s elite career, as she announced her retirement after learning she re-fractured her back. But it was the beginning of her collegiate journey.
Desch, who trained at Great American Gymnastics Express in Blue Spring, Mo., and is originally from Lenexa, Kan., moved to Tuscaloosa with a mission.
“She came in here and was ready to make a difference on this team from the very beginning,” Duckworth said Monday.
And she has.
Competing in every meet this season, Desch has posted nine 9.0-plus scores. The only event she hasn’t touched is the uneven bars. Her season-highs include a 9.95 on the vault, 9 on the balance beam and a 9.95 on the floor exercise. All produced in the last three meets.
This past week, Desch earned both All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman honors.
“Ah, Mad Dog Desch,” Winston said. “She impresses me every day. Her drive to be better and better each turn is just amazing.”
When she did cross over into NCAA territory, Desch had to adjust her mind-set and basically cut her practice regime in half. She learned how to trust her training, as the Crimson Tide would put it, and focus on quality rather than quantity.
Still, the biggest change has been the additional 18 teammates. Desch quickly figured out they’re around to help – more so, they want to help. There’s no reason for her to do everything by herself.
It’s a team sport now.
“I’ve already just taken on a whole different mentality,” Desch said. “It’s so much different to compete with a team behind you and for them all to have your back.”
Elite and collegiate gymnastics are two different chapters of Desch’s life.
If anything, postseason, which continues for Alabama on April 1 in Morgantown, W.Vir., with the NCAA Regionals, could easily mirror what Desch was used to as an elite. Less meets. More teams. Higher stakes.
“Maybe the atmosphere with all the girls being there will be similar, but I have so much fun with this team, I really don’t think so,” Desch said. “Because I love it so much.”