Nebraska
Nebraska's Erin Davis

Nebraska gymnast Erin Davis is utterly explosive when she heads down the runway to send her body flying into the air and then aims to stick a perfect landing. But for the nation’s top vaulter, it was not always the case.

The years of repetitive jumping and sudden stops had taken its toll on Davis’ Achilles’ tendons, and for the first two years of her college career she was afraid the pain she could endure if she practiced and competed at full throttle.

The power behind Davis’ vault and floor routines were what attracted head coach Dan Kendig and his staff to the gymnast when they first visited her at her club in Texas, but that power became tempered as her pain got increasingly worse when she made the jump to college.

“We were a little guarded with her because she said her Achilles hurt a little,” Kendig said. “That’s one of the things you don’t want to mess with. The orthopedist kept saying the only way we can fix that is if she tears it.”

Davis posted respectable scores in her first two seasons at Nebraska, notching career-highs of 9.875 on vault and 9.825 on the floor exercise. But all of that raw power had yet to be unleashed until Nebraska’s orthopedist attempted surgery on her Achilles’ tendons that he was not even sure would work.

“There was nothing really to lose,” Davis said. “They told me they weren’t sure whether it would work or my pain would go away, but it was either have the surgery or wait until the tendons tore. Either way, I would still have to do rehab to strengthen them again. My coaches and my parents and I all thought it was smart to do the surgery.”

Following her sophomore season, Davis underwent surgery and prayed for a good outcome.

“Since then, I haven’t had to hold back because I knew it would hurt or potentially hurt,” Davis said. “That’s why it has been such a great recovery.”

As a junior, Davis was finally able to use her incredible power, and it made a huge impact on her performances. She claimed both the Big 12 and NCAA Lexington Regional vault titles, and was consistently ranked among the top-5 vaulters during the 2010 season. Davis even landed a perfect 10.0 in an early-season meet against Minnesota and Illinois.

“We’ve been very blessed that she came back in her junior year and she’s been able to compete pain-free,” Kendig said. “Those first two years we did minimal numbers and because of that her confidence level wasn’t as high as it needed to be. Last year and this year, she has really come into her own.”

This season, Davis is ranked No. 1 on the vault with a 9.935 regional qualifying score. She scored a perfect 10.0 against Arizona State and has won six vault titles.

“It’s something she takes a lot of pride in,” Kendig said. “The fact that she’s been ranked No. 1 in vault down the stretch gives her that much more confidence to do what she’s asked to do. The vaulting team itself is strong, so we’re getting good scores before she goes, and then her vault is just a little higher and little better.”

Davis and Michigan’s Kylee Botterman are the only women’s gymnasts to score perfect 10.0s this season – both on the vault.

“It’s definitely very exciting and I don’t believe it until after the meet,” Davis said. “It’s very surreal. So much is going on – it’s really exciting.”

Davis will look to become Nebraska’s first repeat Big 12 vault champion when the No. 11 Huskers travel to Columbia, Mo., for their final league championships as a member of the conference.

“It’s like family,” Kendig said. “We’ve developed great rivalries. It’s comfortable, and it’s going to be tough to not be a part of it anymore. I’m very excited about the meet this weekend and would love nothing better than to finish out the Big 12 on a great note.”

“We want to go out with a bang, and go out there and win Big 12s the last time,” Davis said. “We have to go into the meet and not hold back. Our coach always tells us to stay in the moment. We just have to trust ourselves and have fun.”

The 2011 Big 12 Championship will be held on March 19 at Missouri’s Hearnes Center. Fourth-ranked Oklahoma has won the last three league titles. Nebraska is shooting for its first championship since 2007.