Big 12 Campus Correspondent
The honors and titles have been piling up quickly for Iowa State gymnast Michelle Shealy during her freshman campaign. For the Snellville, Ga., native her commitment to the Cyclones is equally as impressive as her hardware haul in her first year of collegiate gymnastics.
Just five collegiate meets into her career, Shealy has produced an event-winning performance at each Iowa State competition in 2011. She has racked up three balance beam titles and a pair of first-place efforts in the all-around. Shealy has been awarded the Big 12's Newcomer-of-the-Week honor twice (Jan. 11 and Feb. 1), and is currently ranked 20th nationally on beam.
"I am really excited how the season has gone so far," Shealy said. "My goal going into this season was to make lineups, so being able to compete in the all-around as a freshman is great."
Shealy's efforts have extended far beyond individual recognition, as she has been a key component of Iowa State's best win/loss start to a season since the 2007 campaign. The 6-1-1 Cyclones have also downed three teams ranked nationally in the top 22 this season.
"Michelle Shealy has been a spark that we really needed," Iowa State head coach Jay Ronayne said. "She comes in doing all-around right away as a freshman which is what I expected her to do when we recruited her, and she is living up to all expectations. She is probably exceeding some expectations. She is a solid competitor on all four events, and she is going to get better and better."
Ronayne also feels Shealy is already becoming a leader in the practice gym.
"Michelle picks one little thing every week that she is going to make better, and I think that shows a lot about her character," Ronayne said. "A lot of the gymnasts on the team latch on to that, and they are following her example."
But, Shealy's contributions to Iowa State could have been non-existent if she had decided to not honor her commitment to the Cyclones after perennial national-title contender Georgia showed interest in her. It would have been easy for Shealy to not stick with her commitment Iowa State, being a childhood fan of the Georgia gymnastics team.
"(Georgia) came into the gym a week after I had committed to Iowa State," Shealy said. "I was told they were looking at someone else, and I didn't know that they were there for me. I found out later that they were there for me. At that point I was already comfortable with my decision to go to Iowa State. I had been a fan of Georgia growing up, but I was just comfortable with coming to Iowa State."
Ronayne was initially ecstatic with Shealy's commitment to Iowa State, but it only grew when she honored her decision even after Georgia began showing interest.
"In my mind, when she committed to us it was a huge score," Ronayne said. "There were high fives all around the office. Michelle and her mom told me that after she committed Georgia showed interest, and she was staying with Iowa State. It really showed me we were on to something special. Not only was she a great athlete, but she was someone with really high character."
Ronayne's wooing of Shealy started early in the recruiting process when he was working at a camp in the gym where Shealy, then a junior international elite gymnast, trained.
"I've known Jay for a long time," Shealy said. "He came to some of our summer camps, so I have worked with him before. That's how I heard about Iowa State, and he was recruiting me. I came up to Ames for a visit and just loved it."
Following her visit to Ames, Shealy committed to the Cyclones in the fall of 2008, a commitment which has proven to be full-hearted. Ronayne and the Cyclones are hoping to continue to reap the benefits of having a gymnast who is proving to be an impressive performer and high-character student-athlete.