Midseason alert helps UW-Oshkosh gymnasts repeat as national champs

Coach and gymnast reflect on winning back-to-back Division III championships

A UW-Oshkosh gymnast holds the championship trophy
UW-Oshkosh’s women’s gymnastics team returned to campus last month to fanfare after winning its second consecutive NCAA Division III national championship. Photo courtesy of UW-Oshkosh

A few weeks into February, head coach Lauren Karnitz realized her team of gymnasts at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh were performing timidly and afraid. The reigning Division III title winners needed a shake up.

“Listen, this is our title to lose,” Karnitz recalled warning the team. “We need to start acting like we’re the defending national champions.”

Less than two months later, the team successfully fended off its challengers. Teams from UW-La Crosse and UW-Stout placed second and third respectively at the national championships in Winona, Minnesota.

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Karnitz and junior gymnast Kaylie Berens recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” to discuss the team’s back-to-back titles.

“It definitely feels amazing. It was a very surreal experience,” Berens said. “There was just a lot of pressure.”

A gymnast competes during the NCAA finals
UW-Oshkosh freshman gymnast Mady Bellmore competes in the NCAA Division III championships March 25 in Winona, Minn. Photo by Steve Frommel courtesy of UW-Oshkosh Athletics

Berens agreed the February shake up helped push the team forward. The gymnasts stopped holding back and started trusting themselves. They had more fun when they believed, “Yeah, we can do this. We got this.”

Before UW-Oshkosh’s titles, the decorated American gymnast Simone Biles brought global attention to mental health in gymnastics when she withdrew from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics team finals, citing concerns for her mental health.

Berens said she would get anxious about competitions but learned to manage by staying in the moment and trusting her training. Paying more attention to her mental wellbeing led to better performances as an athlete, she said.

UW-Oshkosh gymnastics head coach holds the NCAA trophya
UW-Oshkosh women’s gymnastics head coach Lauren Karnitz poses last year with the NCAA Division III trophy, the first of two consecutive titles the team won. Photo courtesy of UW-Oshkosh

Karnitz has coached UW-Oshkoah’s gymnastics team for 16 years. She said the last few years have been an amazing journey. While participation in gymnastics had been shrinking, now its popularity is rising again.

“At times, I didn’t know what was meant for us,” Karnitz said. “But now to see this on the other side, it’s been pretty special.”

Prior to the gymnastics titles, the most recent Division III championships for UW-Oshkosh came from the men’s basketball team in 2019 and the women’s indoor track and field team in 2014.

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