By Haley Grant
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kansas State’s Erica Twiss knew at a young age she wanted to compete in athletics, but little did she know she would find herself competing in the heptathlon at the collegiate level. In fact, Twiss did not begin her athletic career as a track and field competitor, but as a gymnast at just the age of 5.
Twiss, a third-year Wildcat, first stepped onto a beam while visiting a gymnastic center with a childhood friend. She ended up liking the sport and stuck with it through the eighth grade. In the midst of her gymnastics career, Twiss’s father was offered a job in Dallas, Texas. After doing some research, her father discovered a prestigious gymnastics training facility in the Dallas area. The Twiss family ultimately decided to move from their Florida home, as they saddled up and headed to Texas.
Twiss continued to compete in gymnastics for several years, but eventually found it to be exhausting and ended her career.
“I was kind of burnt out of it,” said Twiss. “I did it pretty much all day, every day. I was homeschooled for awhile. I would get to the gym at 8 a.m. and be there until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m. every day. It got to be kind of a lot at such a young age. I knew I wanted to stop doing gymnastics, but I did not want to stop doing sports in general.”
As a freshman in high school, Twiss decided to compete in track and field, as well as volleyball. She found success in both sports, lettering three years in volleyball and winning a total of 10 state championship titles in track and field, including a three-year sweep of the long jump.
Upon graduation, Twiss decided to continue competing in track and field and came to K-State to compete for the Wildcats and train with head coach Cliff Rovelto, who Twiss said played a major role in her decision to attend to Manhattan.
“Pretty much the deciding factor for me was Coach Rovelto, his program and his history,” said Twiss. “Other schools I had talked to wanted me to do the heptathlon and I figured if I was going to do the heptathlon, I wanted to have the best coach in that area and that was Coach Rovelto, by far.”
Rovelto, in his 21st season as the head track and field coach at Kansas State humbly responded to Twiss’s statement, saying it was more than his reputation that sold her on the school.
“I think a lot of times that is inflated,” said Rovelto. “If she did not feel comfortable at Kansas State and in Manhattan, she would not be here, let’s be honest. There are a number of factors that come into play there. The one thing that we kind of hang our hat on is that we are going to attempt to do what is in the best interest of each athlete and look at it from a big picture perspective. We are always going to be looking at what is best for them.”
Rovelto is a an internationally recognized Level II combined event instructor and is one of two coaches in the U.S. to coach multiple combined event athletes to over 8,000 points in the decathlon and 6,000 points in the heptathlon.
Rovelto says one of the best aspects of working with Twiss is her enjoyment of the sport.
“I really like kids that are into it and have a good work ethic. Erica is into it and she has a good work ethic. I think she enjoys it,” Rovelto said. “She is competitive and I think she has become more competitive as her confidence has grown in the events she does. You can see she is embracing it a little bit more.”
Twiss recorded a personal-best 5,348 points in the heptathlon to finish fourth at the Jim Click Shootout April 4-5. She was able to post career bests in three events during the event, including the high jump (5-07.00), long jump (19-09.75) and javelin (85-10).
Twiss says Rovelto’s coaching tactics are unique and has been extremely grateful to have him as coach thus far.
“He has been incredible,” said Twiss. “He is so, so smart. He knows everything there is to know about everything. He knows exactly what works and why; and if that does not work for you, he knows another way. Some stuff works for some people and does not work for others. The way he coaches, if something does not work for me, he will find another way and work with that.”
Although she made the transition from gymnastics to track and field long ago, Twiss finds time on the side to coach young kids at Gymnastics Plus in Manhattan, Kan., where she finds her experiences coaching gymnastics to be nostalgic.
“It is actually really fun, I like it a lot. It is weird because I go in there and I see the little girls doing stuff I used to do and I start to kind of miss it, because you know it was a big part of my life, I was in it for almost 10 years,” said Twiss. “It is cool to see them, but I like to be on the other side and help them achieve goals that I was trying to achieve when I was their age.”
As far as post-college plans go, Twiss says she would love to continue competing in track and field.
“I would love to run post-collegiately and I think here would be a good place to do that,” said Twiss. “I do want to continue running once I graduate. I do not want to stop.”
Twiss will continue her athletic career at Kansas State with two indoor seasons and one outdoor season after this year.