By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Tiana Montell’s trademark has been her consistency for the UC Davis women’s gymnastics team, scoring high points and putting herself in line for another Outstanding Contribution award.
That’s a team honor the Aggies give to four of their gymnasts, who are a package of being Most Valuable, Most Improved and Most Outstanding.
The 2011 St. Joseph graduate has already pocketed two of those awards. In 2012, she become the second freshman in school history to qualify for the NCAA Regionals. She was also the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation all-around champion and all-conference in all-around. As a sophomore last season, Montell was All-MPSF on the vault and beam.
Through three meets in her junior year, Montell has averaged a team-high 9.717 points on the beam and 9.700 on the floor, second-best for the Aggies, who host a four-team meet on Sunday, competing against Stanford, Utah State and San Jose State.
She did her club work at Pantheon Gymnastics, crediting coaches Jerry and Patti Walkabout for steering her to compete in college gymnastics.
“They have been a huge influence on me and are my second parents,” Montell said. “They helped me achieve my goal of becoming a college gymnast. They never gave up on me even when I wanted to give up and I am so thankful for them.
“Not only have they influenced me in my gymnastics world, but also in everyday life. There are so many things I have learned from them that I couldn’t even count. For one, they always emphasized schoolwork before gymnastics. That is something I have stuck to even in college.”
Montell, the daughter of Dr. Edwin and Jody Montell, walked on at UC Davis, where she earned a scholarship for her junior and senior seasons. Her dad specializes in gastroenterology (focus of the digestive system) while her mom is administrator of Gastroenterology Associates & the Endoscopy Center.
Like her dad, Montell hopes to help others but in a different field. Her interest, away from gymnastics, is the animal kingdom. She’s majoring in animal science and is looking to become a veterinarian.
“My parents have always supported me no matter what my decision was,” Montell said. “They would encourage me to do things they thought best but never forced anything upon me. I always wanted to make them proud and be just as successful as they are. So I never gave up and always did my best to accomplish my goals.
“I have such a soft spot for any kind of animal. I would have adopted all the dogs at the humane society if my parents had let me. But I am really interested in animal medicine. With my dad being a doctor, I grew up knowing a little about the medical field and combined with my love for animals, becoming a vet has always been my dream.”
Ballet was first
As a youngster, Montell wanted to be a ballet dancer. But the UC Davis Aggie has an older sister, Lynsey, who’s at Stanford, and she first went into gymnastics. That turned out to be a life-altering decision for the young Montell.
“That was a significant moment in my life choosing gymnastics over ballet when I was 5 years old,” Montell said. “It’s a funny story because I really wanted to do ballet and my sister wanted to do gymnastics. I didn’t want to do ballet by myself, so I started gymnastics with her. So I guess you could say I’m an accidental gymnast.”
Unfortunately, the NCAA doesn’t award scholarships for ballet. The NCAA awards 12 full scholarships to Division I women’s gymnastics teams. Tuition and other large expenses can run over 50 grand at UC Davis.
Beyond saving her parents a bunch of dough, Montell has picked up all the life lessons from her sport, like hard work, teamwork and commitment to an expiration-date passion. There are no national or P&R events for old-timer gymnasts.
“I am driven to help my team and not let them down. To do that I must perfect my own individual routines and it motivates me to be better,” said Montell, remembering the words from her Walkabout coaches. “Pantheon helped me to learn dedication and determination. Gymnastics is a sport you have to be whole-heartedly dedicated to. I also learned time-management skills and to quickly let go of disappointments and always strive to improve.
“College is typically the end of the road for a gymnast because there is no pro gymnastics and those who compete in the Olympics go at a younger age and then can end up doing gymnastics at a college.”
‘Best feeling ever’
Montell gives a hearty laugh when asked what she does in her spare time. It’s not like gymnastics is a part-time gig. She’s a full-time student with tons of overtime spent on daily practices and studying into the wee hours.
After Sunday’s meet, there are nine more competitions, including the MPSF championships, which UC Davis will host on March 22, and the NCAA Regional, set for April 5 in Seattle. Next month is pretty crazy with four events, including three road trips.
Still, Montell can sit in solace on the gorgeous UC Davis campus and reflect on her good fortune, choosing a school named a Public Ivy in 2001, a publicly funded university considered as providing a quality of education comparable to those of the Ivy League, and, in 2013, U.S. News and World Report ranked as the ninth best public university in the United States, according to wikipedia.com.
Also, the website vtour.ucdavis.edu provides exquisitely eye-catching photos of the campus, which covers 7,309 acres, third largest enrollment in the UC System after UCLA and UC Berkeley. One gem is Aggie Stadium, an absolute beauty.
UC Davis is Football Championship Subdivision or the old Division I-AA; the other sports are Division I in the Best West Conference or MPSF. The Aggies are conference foes with the University of Hawaii in sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer, softball and volleyball.
But for Montell the best moment is when she pours in all her hard work at practice after practice to refine the smallest detail and then it’s turned into pure joy on competition day.
“Gymnastics is a hard sport and requires a significant amount of dedication,” she said. “But honestly, if you stick with it and push through all the hard times, it is so worth it. I am so glad I never gave up. College gymnastics is so much more fun than I could have ever imagined.
“What I love about gymnastics is the amazing feeling you get when you execute a skill exactly the way you want to in competition. We train so hard every day in the gym and do hundreds of repetitions of these skills. When you can go out in a competition and show everyone in the audience and the judges what you can do, and how hard you’ve been working it’s the best feeling ever.”