Maryland gymnastics needs its single-event scorers to drive up individual events and pair with established multi-event gymnasts to produce.
Sierra Kondo competes for Maryland’s worst unit — uneven bars. But despite those struggles, the junior has been a strong scorer since her freshman year and looks to continue building back coach Brett Nelligan’s strongest rotation from 2022.
“All her hard work in the gym, you’re seeing it pay off,” Nelligan said. “She’s someone that we know that we can count on and to get that bars lineup rolling.”
The Terps’ bar unit, ranked 40th in the nation per Road to Nationals, averaged 48.750 in its first three meets of 2024. Its lowest tally of the season, a 48.625, came in its most recent outing at Minnesota and marked Maryland’s lowest uneven bars score since 2021.
But even as those scores have declined, Kondo’s have risen.
She recorded a 9.750 in the season opener against West Chester. Her second performance earned a 9.800 and her most recent one jumped to 9.850. She leads the Terps’ bar unit in scoring average but said she doesn’t feel a sense of pressure to lead the other five.
“I feel like [my teammates] always have my back no matter how I do or if it does go wrong,” Kondo said. “They’ll be like, ‘Sierra, just let it roll off your back’ if something were to happen. So honestly that is comforting in itself for me to just go out there and do my skills as big as I can.”
Kondo said mental preparation is something that helps her succeed. Right before her turn to compete, amid a hectic competition atmosphere, she runs over her entire routine with Nelligan. They start with two deep breaths to calm nerves and finish with a fist bump. In between, they rehearse each skill, each movement and each detail until the final salute to the judges.
Kondo competes third of six on uneven bars.
“Having her right there in the middle is perfect,” Nelligan said. “She can follow up on Victoria [Gatzendorfer] and take it to that next level and then set up the person after.”
Kondo mounts the high bar to begin and immediately straddle kips into a cast handstand. On her first rotation around the bar, she pirouettes her hands around to face the opposite direction en route to her hardest skill, a straddled Jaeger. The move starts with a gymnast swinging backward and releasing from the bar, flipping in a straddle shape and then gripping the bar again.
The junior then moves to the low bar via a common collegiate gymnastics transition, a shoot over half. That move requires gymnasts to rotate their body in mid-air between the two bars, twisting to face the high bar but catching the low one.
“I tell myself, ‘Big jump off the board, glide toes really far in front, handstand,’” Kondo said. “‘Swing hard, line change, and then wait for the low bar, see the low bar, drag my heels, see the Jaeger, catch it, and then strong on the shoot half.’”
Kondo kips back up to stand on the low bar and hops back to the high bar. She hits a final cast handstand, rotates in giants twice and exits the bar with her favorite skill — a double layout down to the ground.
“My giants, I think, ‘down up, down up,’ and I point my toes to the ground,” she said. “Then set them up for my double layout and it’ll just make my double layout go super up and down so it’s easier to land controlled.”
For now, Kondo said she isn’t working on any new skills to impress the judges but is potentially interested in upgrading her dismount for next year. Such details have led her to success on a unit that’s otherwise struggled.