Had it not been for a stroke of luck — and an empty slot in Arizona’s summer camp — Malia Hargrove may have never become a Wildcat.
Hargrove, who will compete in this week’s NCAA Championships in the floor routine, is the first GymCat to make the championships as an individual qualifier since 2016.
A stellar second season has propelled the Nevada native to new heights, earning her the distinction of being the lone Wildcat participating in the NCAA meet.
UA coach John Court said this week that Hargrove’s dedication makes her one of “the types of people you want to build your program around.”
The third-year head coach first got a glimpse of Hargrove’s potential several years ago. The program was holding one of its popular annual summer camps on campus.
Hargrove, who was set to attend Robert McQueen High School in Sparks, Nevada, got one of the last camp spots before it filled up.
“She almost didn’t get into camp,” Court said. “It’s kind of ironic and she committed to us so early in high school.”
It didn’t take long for Court, then a UA assistant, to realize that Hargrove was GymCats material. Hargrove got an offer from Arizona and committed during her freshman year.
“She was fast, she was quick twitched, she’s very coachable,” Court recalled.
Before arriving at the UA, Hargrove was a three-time time Junior Olympic National qualifier and the Nevada State Vault and all-around champion.
Starting Friday, she’ll compete on college gymnastics’ biggest stage. The NCAA Championships will be held at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I love the sport,” she said. “I want to be good at what I do, so I work hard every single day.”
Hargrove’s dedication isn’t limited to gymnastics. She’s also an optical engineering major at Arizona and was in the middle of doing homework last week when she got a call from her mom saying she’d qualified for the championships.
“She asked me if I watched the finals for gymnastics,” Hargrove said, “but I told her no because I was doing homework and then she said that I made it to nationals.”
It took the sophomore a few moments to process the news. A few days earlier, Hargrove and the rest of the GymCats tied for third in the NCAA Regional semifinals — a competition where only the top two teams advanced.
“I thought the season was over and (that) meant I can focus on school,” Hargrove said.
But as the rest of the regionals across the country played out, Hargrove’s 9.9 individual score in the floor routine held firm as a qualifying placement.
“I was really excited. Also just flabbergasted,” she laughed.
The high stakes of the NCAA Championships bring the temptation to add a new stunt to impress the judges. Court purposefully decided not to do that with his star sophomore. Instead, Hargrove has worked to perfect her current routine.
“At the NCAA’s, it’s going to be based on execute, execute, execute,” Court said. “We’ve stayed pretty much on the same training regimen over the last few days.”
As an individual participant, Hargrove will perform her floor routine mixed in with Alabama’s gymnasts near the end of Friday’s events. The NCAAs start at 10 a.m.; she’ll perform around 3 p.m.
Though it will be an excruciating wait, Hargrove said she isn’t worried about how her opponents ahead of her perform and will just focus on “soaking up the moment.”
“Just compete the best I’ve ever competed, leave it out on the floor,” she added. “Because that’s the end of the season so I’m gonna go big.”