The end to the women's gymnastics team's Feb. 18 practice appeared to be business as usual. The team lined up across the mats as they normally do, with head coach Jenny Hansen giving her usual announcements before they were dismissed. But what followed was everything but ordinary.
As the practice was winding to an end, Hansen announced that Ali Sonier — a sophomore walk-on from Sussex, Wisconsin — would be brought on as a scholarship athlete.
“She’s just very deserving and she’s so important for our team as a person, but also in gymnastics,” Hansen said. “She competes in three of four events for us and it’s not normal for a walk-on to be contributing at the level she is. It was pretty obvious that if we had some money available, she was the person that we wanted to give to first.”
It came as a complete shock to Sonier.
“That was a really cool experience cause I had my whole team around me and I had no idea it was gonna happen. It was super surprising and super exciting," Sonier said.
Along with becoming a key contributor, Sonier has grown a lot as a leader in the two years she’s been with the team.
“I wanna continue to see the growth that we’ve been seeing from her. Also, for her to get her confidence even further and to start developing more as a leader. I think she brings great energy to practice and that really rubs off on her teammates,” Hansen said.
Sophomore Tiarre Sales has been with Sonier since freshman year. They lived on the same floor in Territorial Hall and are now roommates. She was very happy to see her receive the scholarship.
“It meant a lot just because I know the struggles that she’s gone through, and I know that it’s been a big stressor. From last year, like thinking about her future. I kept telling her ‘It’s okay you’re gonna get through this.’” Then when she got it I just cried because it was such a relief for her and I was so happy for her,” Sales said.
Though Sonier was very enthusiastic for the scholarship, the season is wrapping up very quickly and she knows there is work to be done.
“I think a goal, just as a team, is reaching our greatest potential as a team. It’s not just winning, but staying together as a team and knowing what we’re capable of going out there and doing that,” Sonier said.
The Gophers have just two meets left before the Big Ten Championships on March 21. They have their final away meet against North Carolina State on Saturday and then return home for their final regular season meet against Oklahoma on March 14.