Arms spread wide, chest toward the sky and Hannah Scharf’s smile illuminated as the bright arena lights shine down on her, she’s filled with an unmatchable amount of gratification.
Her routines only last a little more than a few minutes, but the hours, days of preparation, the bumps, bruises and tears shed along the way are worth it for the sport that she loves.
The sophomore Canadian has quickly developed into a rising star in 2021. Through Arizona State’s five meets of the season, she’s won the All-Around title three times, including setting a career-high 39.500 mark against BYU. In her eyes, everything is coming together.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m at my physical peak right now, that I’m flourishing right now,” Scharf said. “There’s just been so much hard work gone into it, that the payoff is so rewarding. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
From a young age, Scharf pushed herself because she wanted to be the best that she could be. She wants to earn things through her hard work. It’s a mindset that impresses just about any coach.
“I think she has a lot of confidence in what she’s doing right now. She’s definitely hungry. She’s seen great gymnasts and she sees what it takes,” said Arizona State head coach Jay Santos following Scharf’s career-high night against BYU. “I really think she wants to be one of those great gymnasts in the country.”
“Hannah is go-getter,” said Alanna Kerler, Scharf’s head coach at Shenderey Gymnastics Institute in Ontario. “When she sets her mind to something, she’s going to do it by whatever it takes. She doesn’t take no for an answer. If she wants to set her mind to something, she does it.”
Scharf’s physical talent has always been there. Her ability to pick up new things quickly and hold on to them isn’t like most gymnasts. The biggest battle for Scharf was the mental side of the sport.
Kerler mentioned that the most work she and SGI put into Scharf’s development was keeping her positive through the tough times and reminding her that she could do anything.
Chris Hanley, who is part of the SGI coaching staff, has worked closely with Scharf mentally. When she first arrived at SGI, there was an adjustment period for her.
In the first few weeks she was there, Chris had a sit-down conversation with her about her approach to the sport.
“It’s something I’ve done with any of my athletes. There can’t be a ton of emotion whether it be high or low. You have to always be grounded,” Hanley said. “We had a long chat about that specifically. From then on, she was just a new kid. For whatever reason, maybe she just needed to hear that.”
That conversation and connection with Hanley has stayed with Scharf in her collegiate performances.
“Chris really enforced in our gym about not getting too emotional whether it be a good emotional, really worked up and excited or down, and those emotions. He taught us to keep level all the way through,” Scharf said. “That’s really stuck with me into college. Back in club, I was talented physically and I knew that, but I also knew that I struggled mentally during meets and competitions. This year something has just clicked for me that I have that confidence and that mental game really figured out now.”
Before Scharf even competed as a Sun Devil, everything about attributes started to mix together.
At the 2019 Canada Winter Games, an event that only occurs every four years, similar to the Olympics, she came away as the most decorated female athlete with five medals, including gold on beam and bronze in the all-around.
Hanley, who was coaching the Ontario team at the event, chuckles a bit looking back on the practices leading up to it.
Scharf was sharp in all her events except beam. The routines just never came together in practice, but once the team arrived in Red Deer, Alberta, it was like a completely different Scharf appeared.
“She just became the star of the show there,” Hanley said.
“It was huge,” Kerler said. “I don’t think she was expecting that. I think every athlete going into a competition has goals to do well and stay focused through their routines but when she did get there and rode the wave, she kept getting better. She came out like the superstar that she is. It just solidified all the hard work that she’s put in. It made her feel like it’s all worth it.”
Scharf attributes part of her breakout season to not taking anything for granted. She called the COVID-19 stoppage of sports as a “wake-up call.”
“It was an eye-opener,” Scharf said. “You never know what can happen...Every opportunity is something that you can’t take for granted. My mindset changed and that’s been a big part of it.”
In the Sun Devils’ meet against Utah, Santos’ youthful squad scored above a 197.000 score for the first time since 2006. And it’s no coincidence that Scharf led the way.