Gymnast of the Year: Long list of accolades
By Josh LIchtenfeld Post-Tribune correspondent April 19, 2011 11:18PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
VALPARAISO — Sometimes it gets a bit confusing for Steffanie Long, when the teachers at Valparaiso High School address the junior by her first name.
“Teachers call me Steffanie and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have two different names’,” she said.
Her other name, which you can hear shouted from fans and teammates during gymnastics events, is “Stewie.” It’s a nickname that she received as a young gymnast at Gymnastics Plus in Merrillville. Around the time that Long was honing her skills at the club level, the 1999 film Stuart Little came to the big screen. Her coach at the time said that she reminded him of the title character.
How could the young girl remind someone of a human-like mouse?
Well, as Long firmly points out, it has nothing to do with looking like a mouse. It does, however, have everything to do with being very energetic.
“I was just this little ball of energy,” she said. “I was just really active and hyper and I reminded him of Stuart Little.”
That energy for the sport of gymnastics doesn’t seem to have waned very much from Long, the 2011 Post-Tribune Gymnast of the Year.
The upperclassmen provided big all-around scoring, which culminated with her first-place finish in the category at the state meet (with a score of 38.325), an improvement over last season when she finished third. With that accomplishment and big performances from other key gymnasts, the Vikings defeated Bishop Dwenger 112.725-112.025 to bring home their ninth state title. It was Valparaiso‘s fourth consecutive crown, putting it in the history books as the only school in Indiana to pull off that feat.
“It felt pretty good to just win (state) for four years, it felt pretty amazing,” she said. “(The victory was) more of an accomplishment on how far we’ve gone, and how much we accomplished, and how much we persevered.”
A great portion of Long’s success came via the floor routine.
Long said of all four events, the floor is her favorite. That showed when she came up to Valparaiso coach Lorie Cook over the summer and asked to make her own routine. Usually gymnasts will let coaches make the routines, but Long had ideas to coincide with new music. From there, the results were explosive. Long won the event at the regional (with a career best 9.9) and at state (9.850).
“Just the expressiveness that you can show through dance and being a decent tumbler,” Long said of her favorite floor elements.
Cook said that a strength of Long’s is her ability to control her emotions.
“She’s able to control the situation, the adrenaline rush, so that’s a positive thing,” Cook said. “You don’t have to worry about Steffanie making a routine.”
Mixing in with her athletic abilities (including Long’s other win at state, in the vault, with a 9.675), Long also embraces leadership. At the school, she is a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC). Members of SAAC work as a go-between for their respective teams and athletic director Sam Rasmussen.
But, as Long explains, leadership can come from any grade level of student.
“Honestly, I would look up to the freshmen as much as they look up to me,” she said. “I try to bring as much as I can to the team.”
That team unit is a driving force to Long.
“I didn’t do high school (gymnastics) to be an individual star, for it to be an individual sport,” she said.