Boise State

Boise State gymnast Perkins flying high as Broncos enter NCAA regionals

Boise State gymnast Ciera Perkins (facing camera) gets congratulated by a teammate after scoring a 9.925 on the vault during the Beauty and the Beast joint gymnastics and wrestling match at Taco Bell Arena on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015.
Boise State gymnast Ciera Perkins (facing camera) gets congratulated by a teammate after scoring a 9.925 on the vault during the Beauty and the Beast joint gymnastics and wrestling match at Taco Bell Arena on Friday, Jan. 23, 2015. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Even among the best gymnasts in the nation, Boise State senior Ciera Perkins is impossible to miss.

Her high-flying tricks on the vault and bars and soaring tumbling passes on the floor made her a college All-American despite a body that admittedly isn't typical of a gymnast.

She's "tall" at 5-foot-5 and lacks the flexibility of her peers.

But when she jumps, none of that matters.

"You look at maybe the top 2 percent of the very top kids, that's what she looks like," coach Neil Resnick said. "She wasn't an elite, but she has those components."

Gymnastics is broken into two tracks — Junior Olympics and elite. The Junior Olympic athletes can reach level 10 and earn scholarships. The elite athletes train for the possibility of an Olympics berth.

Perkins' friends in Henderson, Nev., dreamed of the Olympics. She kept her eye on college.

"I thought about (the Olympics), but I was never the perfect gymnast to go," she said. "I'm not flexible, but I'm powerful. You need both."

Perkins parlayed her power into a perfect 10 on vault and a school-record 9.975 on bars (one judge gave her a 10) this season. The Broncos will need more big — maybe not quite that big — numbers from Perkins on Saturday night in the NCAA regional meet at Cal.

The No. 15 Broncos must beat either No. 3 Utah or No. 10 Georgia and all three teams ranked below them (California, BYU and Utah State) to earn a long-sought berth in the 12-team national meet.

Perkins and fellow senior Kelsey Morris competed at the national meet as individuals last year.

"It's honestly going to come down to who's going to hit and who's going to miss," Morris said, "and I think we're going to be the ones to hit."

The Broncos have posted four of the top 13 meet scores in school history this season.

Perkins has scored at least 9.9 on eight of 11 vaults and at least 9.875 on seven of 11 bars routines to earn second-team All-American honors on both.

She traces her fantastic senior year, and the leadership she has provided to the entire team, to a difficult sophomore year in 2013. She relaxed the summer after a breakout freshman season in 2012.

"I was like, 'I already made lineup. I'm good,' " Perkins said. "And that summer was terrible. I didn't work hard at all. That whole preseason I was catching up to people, which caused an injury. And I was so bummed about that. So after my sophomore year, that is when it clicked: 'I am going to be the best I can be and be there for my teammates because that's all that matters. They need a score from me and I have to be able to give it to them.' "

That fire is part of a competitive streak that comes as naturally to Perkins as her explosive leaping ability.

She began gymnastics when she was 4 years old and was moved into an upper tier on the first day, when she was able to do a chin-up.

"From then on, she asked if she could go to gymnastics every single day," her mom, Cari, said. "I told her she finally got her wish."

By 6, Perkins could climb a 12-foot rope without using her feet and by 8 she was training six days a week.

"She's a pure athlete," Resnick said. "She's got no hand-eye coordination — you throw a ball at her and it hits her in the head — but in terms of the running and jumping and pure vertical leap, I don't know if I've coached anyone who's better."

Perkins' dad, Jim, played basketball at Dixie State and football at Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho). Jim and Cari were sprinters, too.

Perkins' younger brother, Conor, signed with UNLV football as a kicker in 2014. He deferred enrollment until 2016 to take a church mission.

So while Perkins can't exactly explain her powerful jumps, she figures genetics is a pretty good guess.

"It's funny because everyone says, 'You have so much power,' " she said. "Well, it doesn't seem that way. And it's funny because I'm afraid of heights. Everyone laughs — 'You're so high.' It doesn't feel like I'm any higher than everyone else."

She does, however, notice a difference when she watches her own routines on vault and bars. On vault, in particular, she jumps higher and flies farther than others.

That's why Resnick chose to recruit her even though Perkins missed the national meet as a high school sophomore. He saw her at the second-tier national event.

The Broncos offered Perkins a scholarship during her junior year, unusually early for an athlete who didn't have the same skills as others the coaches were pursuing. They believed in her potential and the coaching she received at the Gymcats club.

"I said, 'That's the most athletic kid we've ever recruited right there,' " Resnick said.

The early attention paid dividends. Perkins never seriously considered going anywhere else and accepted Resnick's scholarship offer immediately. That phone conversation happened while Perkins was in the stands at the Las Vegas Bowl.

She arrived in Boise 18 months later intimidated by the talent and skill of her new teammates.

She'll leave in May with a communications degree, a permanent place in the school record book (only three others have recorded a 10) and an expected future in athletics, likely as a coach.

"The experience I had was phenomenal," she said. "I want somebody else to have the same experience as me and I want to be there for them."

First, she hopes to turn a few more heads.

Morris remembers watching Perkins compete alongside UCLA on the floor at the NCAA meet last year. She sensed the Bruins looking at the Bronco as an underdog.

"And then she goes out and tumbles," Morris said, "and their eyes are as big as their faces."

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