By Mike Deak
SYRACUSE – For the better part of the last three decades, Wawasee gymnastics had been pretty consistent. Solid program, a host of championships, the same head coach.
As retirement from running the show befell on Nika Prather this past March, the longtime coach still had some work to do. Just letting go of a program that has been much of her community identity wasn’t going to be easy, or quick. Part of that transition was to find someone who knows the program, knows the sport, wants to see the program carry on its tradition of excellence.
The final choice, however, wasn’t the first person Nika thought of.
“I must admit that I was very surprised when Molly contacted me to say she was interested in applying for the position,” Prather said, nodding towards former Wawasee gymnast Molly Liston. “Occasionally, throughout the years, my high school gymnasts might express their desire to someday become a coach or a judge. And several of them have gone on to do that. Molly was not one of them. So, I was pleasantly surprised when Molly made that move. And I was thrilled to know that one of my past gymnasts would be stepping in to continue the program.”
Liston, a four-year performer in the early 2010s, hasn’t had any formal high school coaching. She’s been a regular at Wawasee meets over the years, her dad one of the scorers for the program at home meets with Molly nearby in the corner of the bleachers. But the perspective will change for Liston, who takes over a program that has a storied history but little to show over the past decade.
“At this point, I’m working more on individual progress than winning sectionals,” Liston said. “It comes down to the basics in gymnastics, and if all we talk about is a sectional title, and we don’t focus on the basics, then we’ll never make it there.”
Liston will have the help of former gymnasts on her side. Hannah Weiland and Tori Kissinger will also be taking their first steps into high school coaching as assistants to the program. Weiland was part of Wawasee’s last big run, where the team won three straight sectionals in 2002-04. Wawasee, with 23 sectionals to its credit, is tied with wrestling as the winningest program in the school.
“Hannah and Tori have been awesome so far just the few weeks into the season,” Liston said. “They are incredible. They do a great job, and have been very supportive of me. The head coaching position is something I’ve never done before, and of course, Nika has been a huge part of the success of this program and she’s still involved however she can.”
Wawasee will open the season with a smaller club, just five in operation at the start of workouts in late November. While Liston’s options will be limited from the outset, it might be a blessing in disguise.
“I think it is good that the team is smaller this year,” offered Prather, who added that she will still be available for counsel as well as practice help. “It will be more manageable for the new coaches. Trying to choreograph routines, spot new skills, and develop relationships with the athletes in a short amount of time will be less stressful.”
Liston was in agreement.
“My note storage in my phone is probably exceeded,” laughed Liston, pointing at her tightly clutched phone. “It’s maxed out. I’m doing reading and research on drills, skills, goal sheets. Things to focus on. I want to come prepared for them every day.”