Towson gymnast Emerson Hurst, cousin to Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst, forging her own identity

In her first year of collegiate gymnastics, Emerson Hurst has qualified for a berth in the NCAA Ann Arbor Regional. But the Towson freshman’s youth caught up to her last month as she battled nerves at the East Atlantic Gymnastics League championships.

“I haven’t gotten nervous like that in over a year,” said Hurst, the first cousin of Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst, recalling the March 23 event where she tied for sixth place in the balance beam. “It was definitely more in my head. While I was performing, I felt shaky. My arms were shaking, but through my gymnastics, it was not as bad as I thought it was. I was just nervous.”

Emerson Hurst, 18, has proven to be a productive newcomer for the Tigers. She placed first in the beam in three meets and the vault twice this season, and was named the EAGL Rookie of the Week three times.

Hurst’s national qualifying score of 9.860 paved the way for her to compete in the beam at the NCAA regional on Friday night at the University of Michigan. Hurst and senior Mary Elle Arduino, who will also perform on the beam thanks to a NQS of 9.840, will each try to become the first Towson gymnast to qualify for the national championships since Gabi Weller competed in the vault in 2000.

Hurst must win the event to earn a spot at nationals, but assistant coach Mary Fredericks said she has the talent to do it.

“She is such a great beam worker that as long as she can keep her nerves in check and do the routine she is capable of, absolutely [she can win it],” Fredericks said.

Hurst said she has been gearing for this opportunity since her mom put her in gymnastics at age 3 “because I was flipping off of the couch,” she recalled. She committed to the Tigers in October 2016 — 18 months before the Ravens used the 25th selection of the 2018 NFL draft on her first cousin, Hayden, on April 26.

“That was crazy, especially going in because I don’t really know too much about football,” she said. “My mom was telling me that there were a couple places that were looking at him, and whenever she said, ‘the Ravens,’ I was shocked because I thought that would be so cool if we both ended up in the same place. We’re literally 10 minutes from each other. It’s awesome.”

Hayden, 25, said the family is tight, spending summers and holidays together, going tubing and jet skiing at several lake houses owned by relatives in Florida.

“With Emerson not having any other siblings, I try to remain close with her,” he said. “I do view her as a younger sister. I want to see my family members have success. It’s fun to see and check in on her and see how well she’s doing.”

Before qualifying for the NCAA regional, Hurst’s determination might have best been on display when she persuaded her feline-allergy-afflicted grandfather, Gerald, to purchase his granddaughter a cat.

“I’m definitely grandpa’s little girl,” she said. “So I had mentioned that I wanted a cat. I really wanted one. So I went to my sixth-grade orientation, and when I got home, there was just a cat lying on my bed. … I ran down the stairs, and I was like, ‘Mom! You got me a cat!’ She looked at my grandpa, and he was like, ‘Well, yeah.’ It was so funny. He says he does not like that cat, but he does.”

But what about her grandfather’s allergy? “He takes medicine every single morning,” she said with a laugh.

The story was verified by Hayden, whose father, Jerry, is the older brother of Hurst’s mother, Diane.

“I don’t know how she pulled that one off,” Hayden marveled. “My grandfather is an ex-Marine. So he’s kind of stuck in his ways, but I guess Emerson got him to soften up a little bit. She did a heck of a job there.”

Hurst’s early success might be somewhat surprising considering surgery on May 25 to repair a torn labrum in her left shoulder and other health problems that limited her to the beam. But in her first meet for Towson, she scored a 9.875 to win the beam at the Little Boston Invitational on Jan. 12.

“That was an awesome start to the season,” she said. “I was really excited about that. I always have a lot of doubt in myself, and once I did what I knew I could do and saw that I do belong here, it definitely helped my confidence.”

Hurst’s initial concerns were not shared by teammates such as Arduino, who said she saw how talented Hurst was in her first few practices with the squad.

“She makes it look effortless, and it’s very hard to make beam look effortless when you’re standing on a four-inch[-wide] piece of wood,” she said. “And if you compare her routine to a lot of others, she’s a lot more fluid, and she has a lot of pretty lines that most people wish they had on beam.”

Fredericks said the coaches have worked with Hurst on refining her technique such as straightening her legs, pointing her toes and sticking her landings “like a dart.” Fredericks said Hurst’s strength is her ability to avoid distractions.

“She didn’t seem to be bothered by anything happening,” she said. “If someone else fell, none of that pressure seemed to bother her. She would just get up and hit regardless, which was great because you need that in an anchor.”

Hurst said she can’t afford to worry about the judges’ scores or other competitors’ performances at the NCAA regional. Instead, she is taking a big-picture look at her season.

“I am very goal-oriented,” she said. “So a lot of the goals I set, I don’t set because I’m not going to achieve them. So I set goals that are within reach, and I have achieved most of my goals this season.”

Hayden said he will not be able to attend the regional because of an obligation with his self-named foundation that seeks to raise awareness of mental health issues among adolescents and teenagers. But he said he is immensely proud of his cousin’s accomplishments.

“What an honor as a freshman,” he said. “I know she’s battled through some injuries this year, too, and to place for regionals as a true freshman is incredible. I couldn’t be prouder of her. My big thing is, I always want to represent the Hurst name, and she’s doing a heck of a job, too.”

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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