Sophomore Valerie Cohen always walks into the gym complete with a smile on her face and a word of advice for every woman on the team. She tells a nervous freshman to take her time on the balance beam, helps a frustrated junior with a way to improve her vault and lends an ear and some guidance to any member of the team that asks.
Cohen is looked to as a leader by her team, but her presence wasn’t always that way. Last year, Cohen came in as the team’s sole freshman gymnast. This proved to be a challenge, and it forced her to acclimate quickly and pave her way as a team member.
Senior Chelsea Robie said Cohen is a true leader on the Bombers squad every day, whether it is at a meet or practice.
“I believe because she was the only freshman last year, she stepped into a leadership role right away,” Robie said. “She is a great role model for this year’s freshmen and to all the upperclassman.”
Cohen came into her freshman year looking forward to continuing her 14-year gymnastics career. As a graduate of Oliver Ames High School in North Easton, Mass., she did not want to leave the sport behind.
“I felt like I wasn’t really done with gymnastics, and I still had more that I wanted to accomplish and new skills I wanted to learn,” Cohen said. “I could not imagine myself being done after high school, because I love competing.”
As she entered into tryouts, Cohen expected to learn the rules of collegiate-level gymnastics with the other incoming recruits on the team. But, when she arrived to preseason practice, she was greeted by one other freshman, who dropped out two weeks later. Cohen said even though she was nervous stepping into the gym as the lone newcomer, it helped her overcome her fear.
“I think it made my transition a little bit smoother, because I was forced to fit right in and not hold back anything, because I didn’t have anyone my age,” Cohen said.
Junior Kate Woodward said though Cohen was the only freshman, she got into the training immediately, eager to learn how the team worked.
“She jumped right in because she was very focused on gymnastics and into the team from the start,” Woodward said. “She made it her number one priority.”
To tackle the difficult situation, Cohen learned from experienced upperclassmen to give herself an advantage. She learned how to train, set up workouts and mentally prepare for collegiate-level gymnastics from her teammates. Cohen said while she learned much during her freshman year, she still struggled to adapt because she missed out on the strong group dynamic within her class.
“While I looked up to the seniors as inspirational role models, I also looked up to the camaraderie they had between them,” Cohen said. “Each class has its own identity and bonds together over the four years, and it was sad because I knew I wasn’t going to have that.”
After much effort and training, Cohen started her first competition on vault against Ursinus College on Jan. 22, 2012, where she scored a 9.25, earning her seventh place. Just one week later, she earned ninth place on her first floor exercise routine. Cohen has been one of the top competitors on the team ever since.
With the completion of this year’s regular season, Cohen had an overall average of 9.428 on her powerful vault and a 9.456 on her floor routine, giving her the highest totals on the team in these categories. Woodward said Cohen’s dedication to development and desire to train has made her stronger than ever in the gym.
“She is one of the best on our team, and I think she has gotten a lot of confidence in her gymnastics and her abilities,” Woodward said.
With such a strong showing for her team during the regular season, Cohen said she cannot help but credit last season for everything she has learned.