Myia Hambrick doesn’t like the term “senior leader.”
She prefers something along the lines of “elder stateswoman” — although, that doesn’t seem right either.
Even though she has been around LSU gymnastics longer than her teammates, being a senior doesn’t make her more of a leader than anyone else.
Sure, she is the most experienced, a 12-time All-American and one of the nation’s top returning all-around competitors.
But she’s the same Myia teammates lovingly refer to as “mom.” She’s the same Myia who needed the support of her friends through handwritten notes to break a mid-season slump last year. She’s the same Myia who will continue to give her all every night.
Everyone else may look at her as if she has all the answers. But at the end of the day, she’s the same Myia she’s always been.
“I guess it’s a little different with me being a senior, because I’ve always been used to having people above me,” Hambrick said. “But I haven’t tried to embrace it any differently than I have in the past few years. It’s just one of those things that’s worked. I don’t feel I need to completely overhaul anything I’ve said or done to the team.”
It took time for Hambrick’s new position as team leader — or whatever she calls her status — to sink in. In many ways, realization still hasn’t.
The 22-year-old Georgia native has fielded questions about her increased status ever since the end of last season, when LSU lost three seniors, including Ashleigh Gnat, who won the national championship in floor exercises in April.
But before LSU opens its season with Arkansas at home on Friday, Hambrick still isn’t sure how to answer those questions.
With Gnat still around the program earning her degree and helping LSU on beam, Hambrick is able to rely on her friend as a sort of personal safety net, asking advice of the former senior leader from time to time.
Like the rest of their friendship, though, Hambrick said the two rarely stay on the same topic for longer than a few moments, so a lengthy talk about leadership isn’t on the horizon.
Instead, Gnat shares small thoughts whenever the situation arises. Worst case, Hambrick always knows she can go to her friend whenever she needs.
“The main thing that’s important about being a senior is that you’re the ones with the most experience,” Gnat said. “You’ve been here the longest, you’ve been on four separate teams and it’s your last go-round. It’s all about making the most of the situation and doing everything you can to help those younger people who have less experience or less time with the program adjust and learn how to compete well and learn how to make big contributions to our team.”
Coach D-D Breaux, now in her 41st season at LSU, said each of the Tigers’ past leaders developed in her own way.
Some are more vocal, while others lead by example. Some are nurturing; others more harsh.
In Hambrick’s case, she never confronts teammates about problems. She has conversations with them, Breaux said.
But the one thing all leaders must have is the pulse of the program.
“They have a feeling,” Breaux said. “They know when someone else is struggling. They have a sense of what’s going on with the people around them. It’s about sharing their experience and knowing when they need to reach over and put their arm around somebody or pat them on the back or say something witty or say something totally ridiculous that gets their mind off themselves and back into what we’re really doing.”
Hambrick became the first LSU gymnast to make a mistake this season when she stumbled on her vault landing in the Tigers’ preseason exhibition last week.
Some teammates worried what that meant for the senior.
Hambrick was thrilled.
“Somebody asked if I was nervous now that I made a mistake and I was like, “First off, I’m going to make a mistake. This is gymnastics. Come on,' ” Hambrick said.
“But I’m glad that it happened. Because I was the first one to make a mistake, everybody else was like, 'Oh, it’s fine.' That’s how I think my leadership style is. It’s very example-driven and not me talking to them or saying things.”