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Lawson named head coach at Southeast Missouri State

Cape native and Cape High graduate to lead program at alma mater

August 24, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral native and former collegiate gymnast Ashley Lawson has been named the new head women's gymnastics coach at her alma mater.

Lawson, a Cape Coral High School graduate, will take the reins for the Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) Redhawks women's gymnastics team, which begins its competition season this January.

"I am so excited for this new journey and am in awe of how life can sometimes make a full circle," Lawson said.

Her main objective is to instill a new culture in her athletes, to make them love what they're doing.

"I want to help the girls love gymnastics again," she said of her coaching plans. "Going from club gymnastics to collegiate gymnastics, it's a much more rigorous and demanding climate. They're competing so much more. Along with the transition into college life. It can be tough."

Her focus will be the team aspect of gymnastics, not the individual one - something she thinks may have been lacking at the university in recent years.

"What I loved the most was the team atmosphere in college," she said. "I wasn't just letting myself down if I performed poorly, I was letting my teammates and coaches down, too."

Lawson began gymnastics at the age of 2 for Gymnastic World in Fort Myers under then-coach Sean O'Lone.

O'Lone was a big part of Lawson's gymnastics career, as he encouraged her to not give up on the sport she loved when she decided to leave the club her freshman year of high school.

She said she feared the commitment to Gymnastic World, combined with school and a social life, would be too much, something she is now helping her own girls with.

She often finds herself repeating things her old coaches would say.

Upon returning home from an extremely impressive collegiate career, Lawson worked at Southern Starz Gymnastics in Cape Coral under old mentor O'Lone, as well as Suncoast Gymnastics in New Port Richey.

She made her first return to SEMO for the 2009-10 season as an assistant coach, and feature beam coach for the Redhawks, and helped three gymnasts qualify for the NCAA Regionals.

She turned the team's weakest event into its second best in her short tenure at SEMO, just a glimpse into what the future would hold.

Lawson left SEMO after one season, returning to Florida with her husband, who was an assistant baseball coach at the university as well, to grow their family.

In 2012, she helped start the women's gymnastics program at Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri. The program would be the first new women's gymnastics team added to the NCAA in 10 years.

Unfortunately, Lawson had to return to Florida following the inaugural season at Lindenwood due to personal reasons, but she would be back.

"I was heartbroken to have to leave," she said of saying goodbye to Lindenwood.

In 2017, she returned to Lindenwood as an assistant coach and balance beam coach, showing she hadn't lost a step, playing a role in leading the Lions to their fourth-straight Midwest Independent Conference title.

The entire Lindenwood coaching staff was named MIC coaches of the year.

Lawson will now take over the program she once shined and thrived in across all four years as a student-athlete.

"My husband and I have always wanted to settle down in Cape Girardeau," she said of the university's location.

"My goal is to give students the best four-year opportunity they can have, that I was fortunate enough to have," said Lawson.

She said she is eager to dive in head-on and create a new culture and set new standards.

"Tradition runs deep here. The program has been successful in the past, so I hope to build a strong foundation here," she said.

Part of that tradition belongs to her, as Lawson still holds four individual woman's gymnastics SEMO records in bars, beam, floor and all-around.

She is one of only three SEMO gymnasts to post a perfect 10 in an event (floor).

She was named SEMO's Most Valuable Gymnast all four years of her career ('01-'04) and was the school's 2004 Female Athlete of the Year.

"An even bigger accomplishment for me would to be to coach an athlete who could break my records, that would be more rewarding for me," she said. "I want us to be competitive and to improve attitude and culture. We need 'we' instead of 'me.'"

Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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