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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The Gymcats’ Canadian Connection

    From left, senior Danielle Hicks, assistant coach Colleen Johnson and senior Rachelle Silberg show their Canadian pride during practice in the Mary Roby Gymnastics Training Center yesterday. All three women hail from Canada and have been instrumental to the No. 14 Gymcats success since their arrival.
    From left, senior Danielle Hicks, assistant coach Colleen Johnson and senior Rachelle Silberg show their Canadian pride during practice in the Mary Roby Gymnastics Training Center yesterday. All three women hail from Canada and have been instrumental to the No. 14 Gymcats’ success since their arrival.

    At every home meet of the No. 14 Arizona gymnastics team, there is a banner that says, “”Go Gymcats Go! Canada Eh,”” in honor of Canadian seniors Danielle Hicks, Rachelle Silberg and assistant coach Colleen Johnson. While they all came to Arizona in different ways four years ago, they all share that undeniable patriotic bond – and a funny accent, eh.

    “”We make fun of them a lot because they make up their own words, but we love our Canadians,”” said Melanie Weiser, a senior from Kansas.

    And what do the Canadians get made fun of the most for saying?

    “”‘Eh,’ of course,”” Johnson said with a laugh. “”Now some of the (American) girls on the team say ‘eh.'””

    All banter aside, what Silberg and Hicks have accomplished during their four-year tenure at Arizona is not laughable.

    “”They are both great competitors,”” said head coach Bill Ryden. “”Rachelle is the mother of the group, and if something happens, I usually will know about it, and Danielle has been the anchor on beam all four years – and that is a very tough position to be in.””

    Hicks hails from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada, a city just outside of Toronto, and came to Arizona with a strong gymnastics pedigree. She was a member of the Canadian National team and placed seventh at the Canadian National Championships in 2004.

    She competed as the anchor of the beam team in every meet since she was a freshman. In fact, she never fell off the beam until her junior season.

    “”That’s a phenomenal feat,”” Ryden said. “”There is a tremendous amount of pressure being the anchor and to not fall at all as a freshman is amazing.””

    As the years went by, however, the injuries picked up and Hicks saw her status as an all-arounder diminish. During her sophomore season, she tore her shoulder in two places and had surgery to correct it in May 2007.

    “”It sucked at the beginning,”” she said of not being able to compete in the all-around. “”But I think I was lucky being able to come back from a major shoulder surgery and to do two events. I was actually hoping to be able to do beam and contribute as much as I possibly could, and I definitely consider myself lucky to be able to do even more.””

    In the Pacific 10 Conference Championships, Hicks managed to compete on the uneven bars for the first time since 2006, fulfilling her goal of competing on the bars before she graduated.

    “”It meant a lot, especially so late in the season being able to break into the lineup,”” Hicks said. “”I’ve been trying to work bars earlier this season and it just wasn’t working out … As long as I’m contributing to the team, that’s all that matters.””

    Unlike her teammate, Silberg’s journey from her hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada to Tucson was unorthodox, to say the least.

    “”I was a little late in the game, actually a lot late in the game,”” Silberg said. “”I was looking at some schools to walk onto, and it was way past the signing period.””

    Silberg was not accepted into Arizona until the June following her high school graduation. When she walked onto the gymnastics team that fall, her teammates didn’t even know she was on the team.

    At Arizona, Silberg competed solely on the vault and spent the rest of the meets being as loud and as supportive as she could.

    “”I would lose my voice at most meets,”” she said.

    Despite starting off as a walk-on athlete, Silberg never considered abandoning the program, or her teammates.

    “”There was nothing about this school I didn’t like, except that I wasn’t getting a scholarship check,”” she said. “”If I left, every other school would’ve been compared to Arizona. The school was good, the team was good, the coaches were good and the weather was good. Nobody can complain about that.””

    After three years, her hard work and dedication paid off when she was awarded a scholarship for her senior season.

    “”I called (Ryden) about a scholarship and he said, ‘Oh yeah, I already got you a scholarship, I just didn’t tell you yet.’ It was so exciting because I’ve worked so hard here.””

    Ryden said her hard work and determination never wavered, even after she earned her scholarship.

    “”Rachelle is a great story,”” Ryden said. “”She is one of the first event specialists in a long time to earn a scholarship, but she deserved it.””

    Silberg is on pace to graduate in May with a degree in marketing and has a two-month summer internship lined up with Nike in Los Angeles.

    Both Silberg and Hicks are vital cogs to the Gymcat’s well-oiled machine and their teammates know they will be missed.

    “”They are very important to this team,”” said junior Bree Workman. “”They make up half of the senior class so obviously they are a big part (to our success).””

    For the past five seasons there has been a Canadian-born gymnast on the Arizona squad and after Silberg and Hicks are gone, Johnson will be the only one left to carry the Canadian torch.

    “”The level of gymnastics in Canada has gone down significantly (the past few years),”” Johnson said. “”It used to be a lot more popular in my day and age, but we’ll keep an eye out up there. We focus on anyone with talent.””

    Johnson competed at the Florida on a gymnastics scholarship after being recruited from her high school in Toronto. She eventually wound up in Vancouver working in public relations before her desire to get back into gymnastics led her to accept a coaching position at North Carolina State in 1998. She arrived at the UA in 2003 and was named the South Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007.

    “”I don’t think (Hicks’ and Silberg’s) issues were different from a lot of the other freshman,”” Johnson said. “”I think that we obviously relate to home, and I know that they are very proud to be Canadians – we all are – but we know the opportunity to be in Arizona athletics is here.””

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