Dowdell earning her spot

By Steve Shonder

Freshman Courtney Dowdell is emerging as one of gymnastics’ top competitors.

Dowdell is succeeding in the gym as she works to get better and adapt from club gymnastics to the college level. Acclimating to college gymnastics has been an enjoyable experience for her.

“I think I’m adjusting well,” Dowdell said. “I feel like it’s a lot more fun than club was, and it’s a lot more of an energetic environment than [Junior Olympics] was.

“The most difficult thing is dealing with school and practice. I know that I have to do weights and do all my schoolwork. After a long day of practice, you just want to relax, but now I have night classes where I have to get up go back out for class.”

The freshman is coming off a strong performance in the Huskies’ Sunday meet, where she scored a 9.65 on vault and bars. It was her strongest performance since a Jan. 24 meet against Ball State where she earned a 38.075 all-around score.

Dowdell has been a major contributor for gymnastics from the season’s start, debuting against Nebraska Jan. 11 and earning a 9.675 on vault and a 9.65 on floor.

Succeeding in the day-to-day grind of college athletics is something that trips up a lot of freshman student athletes, but head coach Sam Morreale said Dowdell is exceeding expectations.

“She’s adjusting to competing at the college level to the rigors of competing every single week,” Morreale said. “That’s one of the biggest changes for a high school kid.”

Dowdell still faces the same challenges as every other freshman, but there’s one in particular she’s working on overcoming.

“I just do the work and I try to focus on not getting nervous because I feel like that’s any freshman’s problems in any sport,” Dowdell said. “You get nervous when you see the big crowds and you know that your team is relying on you. I just try to focus on not being too nervous.”

While she may still have to work on calming her nerves, she manages to feed the pressure she feels into something positive when her routine comes along.

“During warmup I would get nervous and all frantic,” Dowdell said. “But when it’s time for competition, I calm down and I’m like, ‘I just have to go out and hit my stuff and everything else will fall into place.’”

Dowdell has been NIU’s go-to gymnast when injuries affect her teammates, and she’s done well in these fill-in spots. One of her season highlights was going all-around against Ball State, when an injury forced her into the lineup on every event.

“It gives you a little more confidence because they have a trust for me,” Dowdell said. “I’m filling in for this person who’s been in lineup the whole year. I feel like it gives you confidence as a freshman.”

For now, Dowdell is comfortable in the role she’s in, but she has the potential for more.

“She’s been somebody who’s been an up-and-comer on all four events, but I wouldn’t be shocked if she gets to go all around again,” Morreale said.