When Arizona State assistant gymnastics coach Kari Ward announced she would be taking maternity leave during the 2014 season, head coach John Spini began the search for a temporary replacement.
He didn’t have to look far for someone well known and respected in the gymnastics community. Two-time world champion Hollie Vise was living in the Valley and available for employment.
“My fiancé is from Arizona and I wanted to stay involved,” Vise said. “I actually worked the ASU camps and helped coach for two summers, then I kind of made the connection with the other coaches and fell into it. Kari was pregnant with her third child, so I kind of stepped in for her.”
The 26 year old from Dallas and alumna of the prestigious World Olympic Gymnastics Academy in Plano, Texas, oversees the choreography of the balance beam and floor exercises for ASU.
“I’ve always been a coach, but this is my first time coaching collegiate gymnastics,” she said. “I’ve coached club in the past, it’s definitely different, but a lot of fun, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I was considered more of an artistic gymnast, for my dance and flexibilities, so having that in my background, allows me to do the choreography. I have a lot of fun with it, I get really creative, and I already have a lot of fun ideas for next year, hopefully.”
The coaching staff of ASU will receive a makeover next season, as Spini, the head coach for 34 seasons, is retiring and Ward will return from maternity.
“Hollie’s a fantastic coach,” Spini said. “I think she brings a lot to the program here, she has class, she’s a world champion, she’s technically sound. I’ve had great female coaches on the sidelines, from when I started, they do a great job. I trusted her, I believe in her, so I hope she gets an opportunity to stay here.”
ONE OF THE MOST DECORATED GYMNASTS OF HER ERA
At the 2003 World Championships in Anaheim, Vise was part of a United States team that won the team event for the first time in the 70-year history of the Soviet-and-Romanian dominated competition. She also shared the uneven bars gold medal with fellow American Chellsie Memmel.
“It was awesome,” Vise said. “I had dreamed of going to the World Championships or Olympics since I was five years old, so when I was 15, I accomplished that, and it was amazing. At the time, I didn’t really realize what it meant. Looking back I really see the difference of what it means, and I’m proud to say I did do that.”
Vise and Memmel were joined on the team podium with all-around silver medalist Carly Patterson, Tasha Schwikert, Terin Humphrey, and Courtney Kupets. Unfortunately, Vise was the only member of that team who would not make it to an Olympics, as she was plagued with a back injury during the 2004 season, her window of opportunity.
In addition to her World title, Vise was the national champion on uneven bars in 2001 and 2002 and the balance beam in 2002 and 2003. After graduating from high school in 2006, she would attend the University of Oklahoma where she was an All-American on three events as a senior and named Big 12 Sportsperson of the Year.
“I really had a great experience at Oklahoma, had the time of my life,” she said. “One thing I took away from it, is as long as you’re working hard, it’s not going to disappear, even if it’s not showing up that day. It will show up in the future, you just have to keep pushing.”
Just four years removed from her own collegiate career, Vise possesses a relatable presence among the current athletes.
“She was a world champion, so anything she says, we just soak it in,” Sun Devils senior Sammie Seaman said. “Any advice she has, she’s been in our shoes and knows how to compete.”
THE STATE OF GYMNASTICS
In the years since the 2003 Worlds, eight different U.S. women have won either the World or Olympic all-around title, including Simone Biles at last year’s Antwerp Championships, but the sport still poses difficulty gaining attention among the American media.
“At the Olympics, it’s one of the most popular sports, then it kind of dies off until the next Olympics,” Vise said. “It’s such an exciting sport, and I think people are kind of drawn in to watch it, so it’s a shame it doesn’t get more coverage. I think for women, at least, it is getting a little more coverage nowadays. Even at the elite level, the things gymnasts are doing are crazy; it needs to be on TV more.
“When I was an elite gymnast, if you would have told me, 10 years down the road people are doing this! I would have been like ‘No way!’ The things people keep doing get harder and harder every year. You look back 50 years ago, gymnastics was completely different, it just keeps evolving and evolving.”
Arizona State is ranked No. 22 in the nation and will head to Berkeley, Calif., for the Pacific-12 Conference Championships Saturday.