Photo by Sal Ingram.
Freshman Julian Laguisma practices for the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Club’s national tournament this weekend in Richmond, Va. Photo by Sal Ingram.
Photo by Sal Ingram.

It’s not every season that UC Santa Cruz athletes get attention at the national level. However, this weekend Banana Slug athletics might be able to make a name for itself in the gymnastics world on the back of a 5’6″ freshman.

This weekend, Julian Laguisma will be competing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs (NAIGC) championship tournament in Richmond, Virginia. Laguisma will be the sole representative from the College Gymnastics Club at UCSC this year, and the third in the program’s history.

Founded in 2006 by UCSC graduate Andrew McMartin, the College Gymnastics Club fields competitors on both the regional and national level. McMartin created the club with the intention of it also being a recreational club for people of all skill levels.

As the club is not entirely focused on competing, it does not always send members to national competitions. Laguisma, who qualified by competing in two club meets earlier this year, is the first gymnast from the College Gymnastics Club since 2009 to attend nationals.

A competitive gymnast since the age of 12, Laguisma joined the club in fall quarter and has since become one of its premier gymnasts. Michelle Telegas, owner of the Santa Cruz Sports Central gym where the team practices, has been watching Lagusima and noted that his skill level makes him stand out among the other members of the club.

“He’s definitely one of the strongest gymnasts in the UCSC club program,” Telegas said. “He makes his routines satisfy the rules and play to his strengths.”

In the five years since its founding, the College Gymnastics Club has grown into one of the bigger collegiate clubs on the west coast. On Feb. 26 the club hosted the fourth annual Banana Slug Salto, a tournament that outgrew the Santa Cruz Sports Central gym this year. Drawing teams from as far as Oregon State University and UC San Diego, the competition had to be moved to a larger gym in south San Francisco to accommodate the number of entrants.

“The program has made a lot of progress and exceeded my expectations,” McMartin said. “We started years ago as this small ‘let’s get together’ thing and now we are one of the biggest clubs on the west coast.”

Laguisma placed third in the all-around event at this year’s Banana Slug Salto and has since turned his attention to nationals. His demanding regimen — practices about five times a week at both the Santa Cruz Sports Central gym and the Santa Cruz Gymnastics Center — is necessary for the challenges ahead. He will be competing in every category at nationals. This means prepared routines for pommel horse, rings, vault parallel bars, horizontal bar and the floor.

While this is his first time at nationals, Laguisma has high hopes for his performance. The tournament has six preliminary round sections, with the top four from each section going on to a final round. In addition to the individual event competitions there is also an all-around event that combines all the different routines.

After watching videos from last year’s competition, Laguisma feels confident that he can achieve at least moderate success in the tournament this weekend.

“From what I saw, I could be competitive in floor and vault because those are the two main events that I focus on,” Laguisma said. “If I could place top three in vault or floor that would be great.”

Laguisma’s success would not only be a personal achievement, but a definite step forward in bringing the gymnastics program further into the UCSC sports consciousness. As of right now, the team is not affiliated with the school on the NCAA or club level. Rather, the College Gymnastics Club is a student organization that fields a team in these tournaments.

McMartin, who now serves on the board of directors for NAIGC, sees these national competitions as opportunities to strengthen UCSC’s presence in the gymnastics world.

“I would love to see UCSC take up a stronger tradition of sending athletes to the national level,” McMartin said. “I also hope that UCSC will able to take on a leadership level, not only on the west coast but across the country as well.”

Telegas, who is also a member of USA Gymnastics, the governing body of gymnastics in the United States, says that she, too, would like to see the program grow. Telegas has allowed the club to use her facilities since its creations and thinks that continued success could lead to a further establishment of the program at UCSC.

“I would love to see [UCSC gymnastics] become completely affiliated with the school, become a full club sport,” Telegas said.

Telegas and McMartin are both focusing on how Laguisma will do in Richmond this weekend. McMartin said that his competition will be stiff, noting that he will be going up against the “big dogs in the country,” but is still confident in Laguisma’s ability.

“A lot of these guys are fielding competitors from very seasoned and matured programs, so I think it’s going to be tough,” McMartin said. “But my hopes are quite high.”

Laguisma shares those hopes. He said that the pressure is on him for this event, but he remains confident that he can succeed on the collegiate level.

Laguisma said he is confident that he’ll be successful if he has a clean routine.

“I know I can do it.”