Assistant now at helm

Marshall steps in, Falcons flip to second-place finish

Daniel Newman, Sports Editor


When Seattle Pacific University’s Gymnastics team took to the mat for the first time in the 2020 season on Friday, Jan. 10, it marked the first time in 44 years that Laurel Tindall was not the head coach of the team. This year, that designation will go to Sarah Jean Marshall, a former Falcon gymnast and longtime assistant coach of the team. 


Marshall began competing as a gymnast in early grade school, and gymnastics was the only sport she ever participated in. 


Early on, the competition and her drive to be successful motivated her to continue in the sport. But as she got older and became the oldest person on her club team, Marshall began to be motivated by the idea of competing on a college team. 


“When I watched college teams and it was a group of girls who were really connected and working together, that was really appealing to me,” Marshall said.


Marshall travelled from Salem, Oregon, to attend college at SPU, where she continued to grow as a gymnast under Coach Tindall. Her career as a gymnast culminated in her senior season in 2007, when the Falcons hosted the USA Gymnastics Collegiate Championships at Royal Brougham Pavilion.


 Marshall led the Falcons to a second place finish and became the NCAA Division II Gymnast of the Year shortly after.


“We did really well as a team, and to be here in Seattle and have our friends and family and everything here to finish up our career as seniors … was just something that I will carry with me always,” Marshall said.


After graduating, Marshall moved to New Orleans, thinking her gymnastics days were behind her. But Marshall soon returned to the Pacific northwest to attend graduate school at the University of Washington, working on her Masters of Education in Intercollegiate Athletic Leadership, which she would obtain in 2010.


Upon Marshall’s return, Tindall asked her to be an assistant coach for the next season.


“I told her that I would do that, and it worked out with my internship and my graduate program, but after I graduated I had some other plans and that I would only be committing to a year,” Marshall said.


That statement eventually proved not to be correct, because after ten years as an assistant under Tindall, Marshall is ready to step into her new role as the head coach. Marshall knows that this new role requires a greater amount of responsibility, and while it is good to listen to her assistants’ input, she now has the final say and the ability to make the final decisions that she did not have before. 


Another advantage Marshall has in her corner is that as a former SPU student, she knows what her athletes are going through.


“I think college is hard for anyone,” Marshall said. “I think being a collegiate athlete definitely adds to that difficulty… I still remember how hard that is, but also know that it’s possible to get through and it’s possible to have a really amazing experience even when it’s hard.”  


They began the competition part of their season with the first meet of the season against Oregon State University and Centenary College, and it went fairly well. The Falcons ended up posting a total score of 189.525, finishing second at the meet.  


At a collegiate gymnastics meet, there are four events: bars, beam, vault and floor exercise. Six athletes on each team compete in an event, and receive a score out of ten points. The lowest score from each team is dropped, and the other five are added together to give the team a total score for the event. 


In the first meet of the season, Darian Burns tied for first place in total score individually, racking up a score of 36.775. Her best scores of the night were both 9.725’s, which she achieved on the uneven bars and floor exercise. Burns was an All-American gymnast last year, finishing in first place in the all-around competition at the USA Gymnastics Collegiate Championships. 


“Darian’s showmanship on floor is definitely worth watching, she draws people in and has a really fun time on that event,” Marshall said. “Her dynamics in her gymnastics as well as her form just make her stand out from other competitors.” 


Fellow Senior Lena Wirth tied for third on the vault with a score of 9.800 and Sophomore Kayli Tran participated in the first meet of her college career, finishing with a 9.800 score and a fourth place finish in the balance beam.


While the Falcons finished six points behind Oregon State in the team score, the only team score that they are worried about is their own. There are not many teams in their division on the West Coast, so they will not see those teams until nationals, as long as they can remain in the top eight teams in the USAG rankings. 


“Our goal is to stay together as a team, to support each other and work on our consistency so that we can really showcase what these girls are capable of. They’re extremely talented and we are gonna work on growing by gaining that consistency,” Marshall said. 


The Falcons will take on the Air Force Academy in the first of their three home meets of the season on Friday, Jan. 17.