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A star gymnast emerges again at Henderson

NEWARK, Del. - In a small way, Haley Jones has contributed to a gymnastics lore that she hardly knew existed.

NEWARK, Del. - In a small way, Haley Jones has contributed to a gymnastics lore that she hardly knew existed.

The West Chester Henderson senior, a college-bound gymnast, was a mere toddler the last time her school fielded a gymnastics team. The Warriors were quite the powerhouse back then, capping a three-year PIAA championship streak in 1994.

"I've seen pictures around my school, but I've never heard anything, really," Jones said about the team.

Henderson's gymnastics success is 20th-century history. The PIAA stopped sponsoring a tournament after that '94 season, in effect shutting down the few area teams, except for Henderson. The Warriors competed for one more year.

So instead of tumbling, jumping, and vaulting at Henderson, Jones works on her gymnastics at a club, First State, in Newark. Next year, for the first time, she will get to compete for a school.

Last month, she signed a letter of intent with the University of Maryland, accepting a gymnastics scholarship.

Once again, a gymnast from Henderson will compete in NCAA Division I.

"There are usually two styles of gymnasts - your power athletes and your finesse athletes - and she kind of has that finesse, the grace, the technique," Terrapins coach Brett Nelligan said. "It's really kind of pleasing to the judges and usually scores very well, her style."

That style, Nelligan said, serves Jones well on the beam and in the floor exercise, the two events he considers her best.

She won the gold medal in the beam at the 2011 Junior Olympics National Invitational Tournament in Long Beach, Calif. She also placed third there in the floor exercise and fourth in the all-around. The Junior Olympics NIT is held in conjunction with the Junior Olympic national championships. Nelligan said the National Invitational is to the Junior Olympic championships what the NIT is to the NCAA tournament in men's basketball.

Competing at such a level requires quite a commitment.

Jones works out at First State, a 45-minute drive from her West Chester home, four days a week after school and again on Saturdays. All told, she puts in about 20 hours a week at the gym. She said she has had that schedule since she was a sixth grader.

"I always had a goal of doing college gymnastics, so I guess I just tried to work as hard as I could for that goal," said Jones, a diminutive 17-year-old who said she is "5-foot-1, maybe."

Slava Glazounov, co-owner of First State and one of Jones' coaches, said she "has a great presentation, and that's what always has made her stand out. She's one of those rare gymnasts who come with the good look - meaning pointed toes, straight legs. It's very hard to find nowadays."

Back in Henderson's heyday, it wasn't that unusual for its gymnasts to move on to Division I programs. From the title-winning teams alone, three Warriors - Erika Flamer and Kristin Bond (both Pitt) and Gina Cantarella (William and Mary) - went on to compete in Division I.

Jones, who has been involved with gymnastics since she was five, chose Maryland over Minnesota.

"At first, I wanted to go far, try to get out of this area, but when it came down to it, I had two scholarship offers . . . and I guess I just felt more comfortable at Maryland," Jones said.

Getting a Division I scholarship is a lot tougher in gymnastics than in other sports, based on sheer numbers.

Maryland is one of only 61 gymnastics programs that compete in NCAA Division I. Each program is allotted 12 scholarships, Nelligan said. (In contrast, there are more than 330 Division I women's basketball teams, and each can offer 15 scholarships.)

With only two seniors on his 16-member roster, Nelligan recently announced his 2012 recruiting class, consisting of Jones and one other gymnast.

"We have a strong class coming in, and [Jones] is going to have a huge career here at Maryland," Nelligan said. "I think she's going to do well, she's going to score well, and she's going to help take us to the next level."