The ascension of Hailey Best as one of the best gymnasts in the state has been quick and decisive.
The New Milford sophomore has emphatically built upon her impressive freshman campaign in 2020, which featured a second-place finish in the SWC championship and third place at the Class M championship.
This year, Best led the Green Wave to a second consecutive SWC team title and was named tournament MVP, but this may just be the beginning.
“Hailey has not even touched her potential,” New Milford gymnastics coach Bethany Mihaly said. “She has so much potential, she is very driven and very good.”
Best dominated the SWC championships, claiming gold in the bars, vault, and floor events.
“She didn’t even do the bar routine I know she can,” Mihaly said. “So she did enough, but she was head and shoulders above everyone else. Her beam is also amazing but in beam you can fall.”
Best claimed the bronze medal for her beam routine, an impressive feat considering the slip.
“I was a little frustrated with myself knowing that I could have done better than I did,” Best said. “But I didn’t let that affect me, so I rebounded on floor and that went really well and ended up being my best event.”
Beyond school competition Best also competes with JA Gymnastics, commuting to Wallingford every weekday for additional practice.
“When athletes like her come to me, often they are already good,” Mihaly said. “I basically take them and let them have fun with it and help with polishing. Hailey isn’t the first and hopefully is not the last, but she is in my top few and I’ve done this for 33 years.”
With her entire day essentially revolving around gymnastics and school, Best has a special type of passion for her craft.
“It takes a lot of effort, balancing gymnastics with school,” Best said. “I try to stay calm throughout. I do my homework in the car and my parents and coaches are extremely helpful. I am very thankful for everything they do.”
“It is a drive, you have to be super committed to it,” Mihaly said. “You spend three hours driving for four hours of gymnastics after six hours of school, it is a lot of commitment.”
Last Friday Best added another title to her resume, winning the Level 9 Junior Olympics State Championship.
“I am a level nine right now,” Best said. “I do train with the level 10s, so I do some level 10 skills but my routines are level nine.”
With 11 total levels, 11th being elite, Best is knocking on the door, with the goal of reaching her extremely high ceiling.
“I can see her winning New England titles,” Mihaly said. “I am hoping that she is able to keep her energy up because she has so much potential. I am hoping when she is a senior I can coach her for the Elite National Team for Connecticut.”
“Hailey is on her way there,” Mihaly said. “Her form has improved a lot, and many times that comes with age and experience. Her form is probably one of her best traits, it is so clean that it doesn’t give judges a lot to take off of.”
As lofty as Best’s expectations may be, nobody holds her to a higher standard than herself.
“I have learned a lot,” Best said. “I used to get stressed and anxious about things, but my coaches have helped me realize how good and I can be and gain confidence in myself. Next year I hope to hit all my routines, I can definitely be more sharp with the things I do.”
It was an odd season, but Best and the rest of her New Milford squad took advantage of the opportunities they were given.
“She is always smiling and having a good time,” Mihaly said. “She loves to be with the other girls, and even if they are not at her level she loves helping and encouraging them.”
Best proved all she could in the abnormal season, and it should surprise nobody to see her take home more gold in the future.