HAWAII GROWN REPORT
Titans coach Jill Hicks said Ina Higashi-Izumi is one of two seniors who will be counted on for their leadership this season.
Setting the bar high
Ina Higashi-Izumi hopes to set a good example for the underclassmen at Fullerton
Ina Higashi-Izumi was fascinated by the women's gymnastics competition in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that she and her mother Gail were watching on television.
Higashi-Izumi was 7 years old at the time and probably did not realize her interest could lead to a future college scholarship.
"I just said I wanted to do that. I just thought gymnastics was cool because they were doing things not everyone could do. It was amazing to me," Higashi-Izumi said.
Her mother started Higashi-Izumi at the Richards Street YWCA, where she took tumbling classes for about a year. She moved on to the Oahu Gymnastics Center, spent time at the Gymnastics Academy of Hawaii and the Hawaii Gymnastics Academy before settling in with the Hawaii Island Twisters, coached by Joe Rapp.
Higashi-Izumi played youth soccer for a year, but wasn't aggressive enough, according to her mother. She also took swimming, ballet and hula lessons, but never lost the interest in gymnastics.
Rapp and her mother helped Higashi-Izumi with the process of selecting a college.
"One of my goals was to get a college scholarship," said Higashi-Izumi, a four-time Level 10 Junior Olympic national qualifier.
"I made recruiting trips to Iowa State, Brigham Young, Cal State Fullerton and talked with Maryland. Fullerton recruited me more and they offered me more financial aid," said Higashi-Izumi, a 2003 Kalani graduate.
She was hosted by Quinn Nelson, a gymnast from the Big Island who Higashi-Izumi had competed against. She had an opportunity to ask questions about the school and program at a team movie night.
"The girls were really nice and they told me what to expect and that made me feel better," Higashi-Izumi said.
One of two seniors, she now is counted on by Titans coach Jill Hicks to be a steadying influence for the underclassmen.
"I utilize the two seniors in leadership roles. They have the work ethic and they remind me of things I don't always think of because I'm busy with something else," Hicks said.
"What is even more important is their leadership in handling themselves in school and at meets.
"The seniors have done it. They know things always won't go their way. They are flexible under pressure at meets and have been great leaders in nurturing the freshmen."
Higashi-Izumi competed in all 11 meets as a freshman despite a right ankle injury.
She scored a career-high 9.775 on the uneven parallel bars and scored better than 9.70 in five of the last eight meets.
A dislocated left elbow in her sophomore season limited her to competing on the bars in the final six meets.
Higashi-Izumi participated in all 11 meets on the bars and in floor exercise in 10 of 11 meets last year despite an injury to her left shoulder.
She set a career high in floor exercise with a 9.675 total in a dual meet against California.
"Ina is consistent and calm. A lot of times on bars kids can be inconsistent. She is our first person out there. You want her to set the pace with her calm demeanor," Hicks said.
"I think everyone would say they love this team because of the seniors. They are not threatened by the talents of the freshmen. The best part of being a leader is being a servant and not trying to dominate."
Higashi-Izumi isn't sure she presents a cool picture when it is time to compete.
"I think I look nervous because I feel nervous. Sometimes I think I look like I'm freaking out," she said.
"When I'm competing, I talk to myself. I tell myself to take a deep breath, to stay calm before I start. I tell myself to do the same thing I do in practice. Just do the same thing."
Higashi-Izumi begins her final collegiate season today when the Titans compete against Boise State in a dual meet at Reno, Nev.
"Ina has a back injury that kind of limits her right now," Hicks said.
Higashi-Izumi goes to physical therapy daily to correct the problem. One side of her back is tight and this makes it difficult for her spine to bend. She is hoping to be healthy enough so she can compete in her favorite discipline, the floor exercise, this season.
"It's a muscle thing," she said. "College has been hard because every year I've been hurt, but I have never thought about giving up.
"Hopefully I'll be able to do floor again soon. The events are separated (time-wise) so I'll get enough rest.
"I always set goals to strive for, whether it's for school or in the gym. This year I want to improve my performance."
She will have approximately 10 meets to qualify for the NCAA regional. The regional qualifying score is computed by taking the highest three home scores, the highest three away scores, dropping the high and low score and averaging the rest. Results from the regional competition determine who goes to the NCAA championships.
Higashi-Izumi will graduate in the fall of 2007.
She plans to stay on the mainland and pursue a masters degree in geriatrics.