Photo by Tim Casey / UAA

At what may be her final Orange & Blue intrasquad, Amanda Cheney returned to competition with a new perspective.

Thanks to a leg injury, Cheney sat out her junior season in 2018 and does not appear to be taking a redshirt year, but she’s determined to make 2019 her best season yet. As one of only two seniors, this is do-or-die time for her: she hasn’t been a top lineup choice on any event so far in either of her competitive seasons.

It’s clear that a season on the sidelines has taught her a lot. She was one of the most vocal team members of the night, her motivating shouts echoing through the practice facility as the tension of competing in front of a crowd brought many of her young teammates to silence. As her team warmed up vault last Thursday, the room was missing the usual cheers so commonplace among the Gator gymnasts – until Cheney’s voice broke through the silence, encouraging freshman teammate Nya Reed as she warmed up her difficult Yurchenko 1.5 vault.

Though leadership and motivation is important, a season away has given Cheney something else – the fire to compete again. Sitting out while her teammates had some of their best performances in program history and took third at the national championship couldn’t have been easy. This intrasquad provided a unique opportunity to fans and journalists alike to get up close and personal with the gymnasts during competition, and being mere feet away from the end of the beam as Cheney fought for every tenth demonstrated the competitive spirit within her.

Treating every moment as an opportunity for competition is part of that. After the intrasquad, Cheney said that the team “treat[s Orange & Blue] like a meet. We want to get that experience, that feeling, that energy… you can’t make it exactly what the O-Dome is, but having people here, having judges and long-sleeve leotards – we’re definitely treating it as a real meet, and we want to use that to build our confidence for season.”

When asked about her return to competition, the senior’s face lit up with a wide smile. “It feels so great [to be back competing]! I missed it so much. Gymnastics is my first love, and I only have a few more months of it, which is really sad, but I’m excited to see what this season holds. This team is really special, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Cheney competed on vault and beam with team Blue at the meet, with beam her stronger of the two showings and the likelier event for her to contribute. She’s mixed up some of her composition on beam, showing a creative new mount and changing one of her back handsprings to a layout-stepout in her acro series, among other things. The biggest change that’s evident though is the attitude. Every flick of the arm and placement of feet showed her fire: she wasn’t giving anything away without a fight. Having seen her compete in the O-Dome two years ago, the difference is vast. As a sophomore, she was more tentative, less sharp. Fast forward to last week, and it’s a completely different story. According to Cheney, beam is her favorite event, so she’s definitely gunning for a place in the lineup. “I just want to do what’s best for the team, keep being consistent and confident,” she says of her chances at beam.

With all the depth on the Gator squad this year, it may be a fight for her, but head coach Jenny Rowland sees something there, too. Of the senior, Rowland said, “Amanda Cheney is healthy and happy, and I am so thankful for that alone. She is doing very well, training two events very hard, getting more and more consistent.” She mentioned Cheney’s recent emergency appendectomy, which put her out of training temporarily, but spoke highly of her ability to bounce back from challenges: “She’s unfortunately been used to having some setbacks, but after a little setback comes a major comeback.”

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