Maria Hayden and her Herndon teammates were on the biggest stage, the Virginia High School Gymnastics Championships, and they were warming up with hand-stand races. Before that they raced across the mats doing "the worm."
Yet it is the freshman Hayden's maturity that Coach Keith Naquin credits for her successful championships. She led her team to a fourth-place team finish Friday, finished fourth in the all-around competition and notched the highest uneven bars score on both days.
"It's kind of unique for a freshman not to be rattled here," Naquin said. "It exemplifies her training, her skills and the consistency she has had."
Hayden scored a season-high 9.85 on the uneven bars in Saturday's individual competition. The superior judge scored her routine as a 9.95 but the other judges' 9.85 scores rounded it down.
Hayden saw Langley senior Lisa Faulkner, who placed second in the all-around competition, set the uneven bars high score just minutes before her. The two battled back and forth the entire day after Faulkner edged Hayden by 0.25 points in the Northern Region all-around competition.
"I wanted to top [Faulkner]," Hayden said. "Since she was a senior, I wanted to see if I could beat her."
Although others lauded Hayden's success so early in her high school career, she thought nothing of it. Hayden has been doing gymnastics since she was 2, when she started at the Herndon Community Center before moving to the Gemini Gymnastics club.
Naquin was most impressed by Hayden's ability to participate in all four events during Friday night's team competition, which didn't end until about 10 p.m., then come back Saturday at 8:30 a.m. and participate in all four events again for the individual competition. Most gymnasts didn't compete the night before.
After Hayden received her ribbons, she struck goofy poses for her teammates' pictures. She started off the season very quiet and shy, but Hayden has loosened up, Naquin said. After witnessing the races, was she too loose?
"That has never been an issue," Naquin said with a laugh. "When it's game time, it's on."