TEMPE – Hannah Scharf started her gymnastics career at the age of 4. Now, 18 years later, she’s heading to the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships as an individual qualifier for the second time in her Sun Devil career.
To earn the individual qualifier spot, Scharf grabbed the highest all-around score of any gymnast whose team did not qualify for NCAA championships. It all came down to her performance on the second day of NCAA regionals in Pittsburgh, where earlier this month she secured a 39.625. Scharf’s score was the second highest, only behind a gymnast from Florida, which advanced as a team.
While Scharf, a senior, would rather have her teammates competing alongside her when the championships begin Thursday at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, she is excited about the opportunity to showcase her talent on the biggest stage in college gymnastics. She also knows that the knowledge and experience she will gain from this experience will help her to be a better leader within the team.
“It was a little bit disappointing that the rest of my team isn’t here, but I know that they really do look up to me,” Scharf said. “I feel like I can really help guide the rest of the team for my last year next year.”
Scharf has been a staple for the Sun Devil gymnastics team since her freshman year. Her only two scores below nine came in her second and fourth career meets, an 8.800 on beam against Oklahoma and an 8.375 on bars against Utah. Since then, it has been all nines.
ASU coach Jay Santos has seen Scharf grow immensely since her freshman year. Santos said her transition into college gymnastics was not seamless, but quick.
“It took her probably half of freshman year to start to figure things out a little bit,” Santos said. “Then you started to see some glimpses of the gymnast that she’s become now, and the way she can compete and handle the big situations and rise up in those moments and just really perform.”
Scharf’s teammates have also seen her develop into the gymnast and leader she is today, and have grown alongside her. Gracie Reeves was assigned to be Scharf’s roommate in their freshmen year, and the two have lived together ever since. Reeves has had a front row seat to Scharf’s evolution.
“Her consistency and performance, everything has just improved every year,” Reeves said.
Individual qualifiers rotate with another team during the championship meet. This year, Scharf will be rotating with UCLA. In her last appearance at nationals, Scharf rotated with Michigan, which went on to win the national championship. Scharf’s biggest takeaway from that experience, according to Reeves, revolved around what it takes to be a championship team.
“She’s brought that knowledge back,” Reeves said. “Through her leadership, she’s pushed us to try to become those teams and break the barriers.”
As Santos has watched Scharf grow over the past four years, he has started deferring to her when it comes to her training schedule. In the past couple weeks, Scharf has been practicing on her own while the rest of the team is in a mandatory postseason rest period. Santos’s goal has been to keep her motivated and focused.
“A lot of it is just trying to keep any athlete, at this point in the year, as fresh as she can be,” Santos said.
Some of Scharf’s teammates have come to support her during practice so it doesn’t feel like she’s doing this alone. When she was an individual qualifier in 2021, Scharf had another teammate, then-senior Cairo Leonard-Baker, qualify alongside her. This time around, Scharf doesn’t have the camaraderie that comes with competing alongside another teammate.
While she doesn’t have a teammate with her for this trip, Scharf has no lack of friends to compete with. She will be rotating with UCLA where she already has friends and is excited to make more. Competing alongside another team can be daunting, but already having friends on that team makes it easier for Scharf.
Santos is confident in Scharf’s ability to perform on this stage and his goal for her is to simply enjoy the experience. He knows that as long as she remains confident and focused, she will be able to deliver outstanding performances. Scharf is already a three-time All-American, and Santos knows this is an opportunity to add to her achievements.
“Those accolades are just going to continue to cement her legacy with some of the Sun Devil greats,” Santos said.
For Scharf, the championships are an opportunity to show off her skills while having a good time on the biggest stage in college gymnastics. With the support of her teammates, friends and family, she’s confident in her abilities.
“I just want to make my teammates and ASU proud,” Scharf said.
Regardless of how Scharf performs Thursday, it will not be the end of her Sun Devil career. She will return for her fifth year and looks to make one last push to get to nationals, but this time as a team.
“When you can hold onto an athlete of that caliber, that’s just fantastic and will help continue moving this program forward,” Santos said.
Scharf has already cemented herself as not only one of the best Sun Devil gymnasts, but one of the best all-around gymnasts in the country. The NCAA women’s tournament simply serves as this year’s last opportunity to show her skills and her love for the sport.