A New Coach in Town

by Antonina Tortorello

Brockport Gymnastics team at practice. Photograph by Mathieu Starke

Since Kirsten Paultre was two years old, she knew gymnastics was her calling.

SUNY Brockport sophomore, Paultre said she was put into mommy and me classes and thrived in the environment. As she got older Paultre said she joined the club team at her local gymnasium and knew she wanted to pursue gymnastics further in college. 

“Gymnastics is my life,” Paultre said. “It has been since I could remember. I have worked so hard to be where I am today and am grateful to be able to pursue my passion in college.” Said Paultrue.

Paultre preforming a floor routine. Photograph by Mathieu Starke

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Paultrue says she was recruited to compete on SUNY Brockport’s gymnastics team by former head coach, John Feeney. Feeney was Brockport gymnastics’ head coach for 21 years and was said in a statement from SUNY Brockport to have “rewritten school record books.” 

Feeney led the program to great success earning them the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association (NCGA) National Championship twice, was awarded NCGA Coach of the Year three times, trained many national ranked gymnasts, and earned many championship titles. Feeney was also a lecturer in Brockport’s Department of Kinesiology, Sport Studies, and Physical Education. The people whose lives Feeney touched were said to be saddened to hear of his retirement, announced in early 2021.

Feeney coaching the team. Photograph by Mathieu Starke

After 21 years of great success Feeney left big shoes to be filled. In September of 2021 SUNY Brockport Athletic Director announced that Dr. Rene Lyst would be taking over for Feeney. Lyst has over 20 years of collegiate coaching experience including head coaching at D1 schools such as Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas. Lyst has been the head coach for the 2021-2022 season and says she is finally settling in at Brockport.

“The transition to Brockport has been positive and fairly smooth,” said Lyst. “I would say the team has had a lot to do with that. Their openness to new ideas and new training techniques and expectations has helped that immensely. Personally, I feel I am starting to hit my groove,” said Lyst.

Lyst says she is excited to see her team compete this year and has a lot to prove as a collegiant coach. Her team and herself work hard to surpass expectations and work to the best of their abilities each practice.

“I have a lot to prove to myself and to the collegiate gymnastics’ community. I want to do the best I can every day. I want to create a positive culture that strives for excellence,” says Lyst.

Dr. Rene Lyst. Photograph from SUNY Brockport

Team members including Paultre, say that adjusting to a new coaching style while still adjusting to training in a pandemic has been a challenge. 

“All of our seniors have stated it multiple times that if we had Feeney, the workouts we have been doing so far would not have started until we have actually gone into competition season,” Said Paultre. 

“Our new coach is strict and likes things done her way and sometimes that can get pretty irritating but then she reassures us that she is truly doing it to make us better. I have already seen the changes, and the changes I have seen have all been positive. Last year we never really had assignments because we didn’t have a season so I wouldn’t have seen that side of Feeney. Their coaching styles have been different but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other,” Paultre said.                               

SUNY Brockport sophomore and member of the team, Emily Justa, says she too is still adjusting to the changes but is excited to see the growth Lyst will bring to the team.

“Our past coach gave more corrections and joked around with the team. Whereas our new coach is more calculating and down to business,” Justa said. “I’m excited to see what happens. Our team is growing along with our new coach. I’m excited to be back competing soon,” said Justa. 

The team watching one of their teammates preform a bar routine. Photograph by Mathieu Starke

Members of the SUNY Brockport gymnastics team say they are excited for the opportunity to finally compete again. Lyst’s experience and coaching style will be displayed as the team prepares to compete in their first meet since the start of the pandemic. 

“She’s said it before we are all in this together which is very true,” Paultre said. “Gymnastics is all about trial and error so that will definitely be exciting to see after at our actual first meet, what will come after,” said Paultre.

Lyst says she cannot wait to compete with this team for the first time after not competing for almost two years since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I can’t wait to compete with this team,” said Lyst. “I know they have so much heart, a lot of potential, and I think a real expectation for success. Those ingredients I believe will make this season one to remember,” Lyst said.

The team will compete against SUNY Cortland at SUNY Brockport’s Tuttle North Gymnastics Center on January 15th at 1 p.m. 



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