SOUTHINGTON — Now that we know how the story ends, it’s clear Katherine “Kat” Drechsler’s future as a college athlete wasn’t just shaped by her background as a gymnast.
Yeah, OK, that had a lot to do with it, but don’t overlook that stint as a middle linebacker.
More on that in a moment.
For now, know that the next time Dreschler, the lone senior on Southington’s state championship gymnastics team, takes the floor of competition it will be at Quinnipiac University in Acrobatics and Tumbling — “Acro-Tumbling,” for short.
That’s a misnomer, though, because there are really no shortcuts in Acro-Tumbling. The sport combines gymnastics and cheerleading, without the appartuses and without the cheers.
Think floor exercise, fult-tilt motion and bodies getting tossed and caught, with as few as one to as many as 24 competitors in action at once.
“Basically, it takes the toughest components for tumbling in gymnastics and then combines it with the stunting portion of cheerleading, so the girls are like non-stop tumbling across the floor or throwing each other up in the air,” explained Southington gymnastics coach Cassidy Chamberland. “It’s a very, very intense program, so it’s perfect for Kat.”
Chamberland coached Drechler for the first time this year. Coming over from club gymnastics, Drechsler played a major role in Southington’s unbeaten run to the Class L and State Open crowns.
Before gymnastics, though, there was Powder Puff football. Chamberland, a physical education teacher at Southington High, helped coached that team in November. She lined up Drechsler up at middle linebacker.
So there’s the other piece. The same sort of fierce abandon demanded of a linebacker should serve Drechsler well in Acro-Tumbling.
“She’s quick and she’s powerful and she’s fearless,” said Chamberland. “And she works real hard.”
Drechsler arrived at Acrobatics and Tumbling sort of by reverse somersault. Interested in pursuing studies in athletic training and sports medicine, she settled on Quinnipiac, which doesn’t have a gymnastics team.
It does have Acro-Tumbling, a sport Drechsler had come to learn about through friends and social media, and thus a new door in her athletic career popped open.
“I really think academics are important, so I looked for school mostly,” Drechsler said of her college search. “I want to make sure I get a good education, but Quinnipiac also happened to have what I was looking for in athletics.”
Acro-Tumbling is still emerging at the college level. Not yet an official NCAA sport, it is governed by the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association.
Only 29 schools offer it, 11 shy of the minumum 40 required for NCAA consideration. Most Acro-Turmling programs reside in the South. Quinnipiac is the lone New England beach head. The closest rivals are in Pennsylvania — East Stroudsburg and Gannon, and even then Gannon is out in Erie.
So Drechsler is in for some road trips.
Two of the bigger schools that offer Acro-Tumbling are Baylor and Oregon. The Bobcats went to Oregon this past season and were scheduled to host Baylor before the season shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Drechsler will be in experienced hands at Quinnipiac. The program is coached by Mary Ann Powers, one of the founders of the National Collegiate Acrobatics & Tumbling Association.
When Chamberland heard Drechsler was interested Acro-Tumbling, she reached out to Powers and her staff.
“I think this girl is going to be perfect fit for your team.”
Drechsler pretty much grew up on a mat. At age 3, she participated in a “Mom & Tot” program with her mother Diana at American Gymnastics and it would remain her home gym.
Drechsler found the diversity of gymnastics appealing. She also relished its demands.
“I just thought it was so interesting because it’s constantly varied, how there are four different events,” Drechsler said. “If you’re not good at one, there’s always something else you can be good at it.
“And just to strive for new skills. The skills are so difficult to learn. It was a good challenge and I enjoyed it.”
Good enough to compete on the club gymnastics circuit, Drechsler rose through the ranks to Level 8. The training can be a grind, though, and by the end of her junior year, Drechsler was burnt out on the time commitment.
“I was training like six days a week, for like 3½ hours a day,” she said. “The schedule was so much.”
Her love for gymnastics, though, hadn’t really waned. Fortunately, there was an alternative.
Drechsler’s decision to join the school team was blessed news for Chamberland. The Southington coach was well aware of Drechsler’s acumen. She’d seen it first hand. American Gymnastics is home base for the Blue Knights.
“I’d be coaching the high school team at American every day, but I would see Kat on American’s club team, practicing and competing with them,” Chamberland recounted. “I was just wowed by her every practice. When I found out she was planning to come out for the high school team, I was definitely jumping for joy.”
Bonus: Southington landed not one American club gymnast, but two: Drechsler and junior Kelly Perrotti. With that pair joining a solid returning core, coupled with a big incoming freshman class, Chamberland knew this year’s team was going to be very good.
And it was. The Blue Knights went from a losing season in 2019 to perfection in 2020. They won every regular season meet, raised their first Class L banner in five years and, for the first time, claimed the State Open — something the dynasty teams of 2005-2008 didn’t get a chance to do because the State Open in gymnastics wasn’t established until 2009.
As expected, Drechsler delivered. In the Class L meet, she won beam (9.075) and tied for first in vault (9.1) en route to placing second behind Perrotti in the all-around (35.375).
At the Open, Drechsler was the top individual Blue Knight. She placed ninth in the all-around at 35.050.
“Kat’s just a powerhouse. She showed that to us during her senior season,” said Chamberland. “She’s very explosive and very powerful in her gymnastics.”
Funny, though: It was the more laid-back nature of high school gymnastics, as compared to club, that worked so well for Drechsler.
“I wasn’t expecting or even really hoping to win as much as we did,” she said. “I really just wanted to have fun with friends.”
After leaving club gymnastics, Drechsler figured her chances of being a college athlete were nil.
Instead, via the relatively smaller world of high school gymnastics, a whole new vista came into view.