Hailey Burleson flying high as Washington hosts NCAA Regional gymnastics meet

The junior has won 14 events this season, which leads the Huskies. UW will try to be one of the top two teams this weekend to qualify for nationals.

They might be the toughest athletes at the University of Washington, and they certainly are pound-for-pound.

An injury is always just one mistake away. But when a UW gymnast lands a perfect vault, or finishes off a fabulous beam routine, she feels something most people will never get to experience.

“It’s the greatest feeling because you’ve worked so hard at the gym. When your hard work finally pays off, it feels so awesome,” said UW junior Hailey Burleson, who will lead the Huskies at Saturday’s NCAA Regional meet at Alaska Airlines Arena. “To run down the vault and give your teammates a high-five and see them all smiling and so happy, and then to give your coach a hug and they’re like, ‘You did so awesome!’ — it’s the greatest feeling.”

NCAA Regional

When: 4 p.m. Saturday at Alaska Airlines Arena

Who: No. 13 Washington, along with No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 12 Kentucky, No. 24 Utah State, No. 32 Stanford, and No. 34 BYU as well as individual competitors from Sacramento State, UC Davis, Seattle Pacific and San Jose State.

What’s at stake: The top two teams and the top two all-around competitors (who are not on an advancing team) will receive an automatic berth to the national championships in St. Louis, April 14-15.

Did you know? Washington’s, which is coming off a program-record 197.1 at the Pac-12 championships, has not qualified for the NCAA championships since 1998.

Burleson has won 14 events this season (the next-highest UW win total is five) and is remarkably consistent in all four events: vault, balance beam, floor exercise and bars. And she is happy competing at UW, even if it seemed like quite a longshot growing up in Asheville, N.C.

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