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Gymnastics place fourth at regional meet

Allison Mueller

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Junior Katie Carling performs her beam routine at the regional gymnastics meet on Friday, March 17 in the McCown Gymnasium. The Warriors placed fourth among eight teams and will send three individuals to compete in nationals beginning Friday, March 31. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

Junior Katie Carling performs her beam routine at the regional gymnastics meet on Friday, March 17 in the McCown Gymnasium. The Warriors placed fourth among eight teams and will send three individuals to compete in nationals beginning Friday, March 31. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

Emma Cavanaugh / Winonan

Four months of practice for one night of glory.

Every week of competition for the Winona State University gymnastics team has been a collective practice for the WIAC Championship and NCGA Regional meet on Friday, March 17. Their season stretched nearly four months long in which they faced challenges and triumphs.

Junior Gianna Scala said, “Each week we just try to make the routines better than the last, and that’s hard because the judging is inconsistent. Our coach tells us a lot of the time, ‘Don’t go off of the score that you get, go off of your performance.’ There’s lots of little changes that we can be making in our routines, and each week we try to make that better.”

Since there are eight teams in the WIAC, the regional competition is held in Winona every eight years. The top three teams progress to nationals, and the Warriors were eager to make it as a young team.

Junior Eboni Jackson said, “We obviously want to make nationals as a team, and I think we’re all very excited; especially the freshmen because they’ve never experienced it before.”

The Warriors placed fourth at the regional meet with a score of 186.750, and while the team will not be moving forward, three individual Warriors will compete in the NCGA National Meet the weekend of March 31.

Kelly Johnston is the only first-year on the team advancing after a beam score of 9.425, while junior Katie Pipp will continue on bars with a score of 9.450 on Friday. Jackson also scored a 9.450 on bars and a 9.575 on the beam for a fourth-place finish. She will move on to nationals with her floor event, beam, and as an all-arounder.

First-year Breanna Murray scored highest for the Warriors on the floor event with a 9.475, followed by Alyssa Carroll with a 9.400.

Junior Emily Woitchek performs on the uneven bars during regionals at home on Friday, March 17. This was Winona State’s first time hosting the regional meet in eight years. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

Junior Emily Woitchek performs on the uneven bars during regionals at home on Friday, March 17. This was Winona State’s first time hosting the regional meet in eight years. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

Even though Winona State will not advance to nationals as a team, head coach Beckie Rolbiecki said she has many reasons to be proud of the group.

“Our vision was to hopefully claim one of those three spots to qualify for nationals as a team, but I’m so proud of the team and what they’ve done all season, and the show they put on, and the caliber of gymnastics that they’re putting on the floor,” Rolbiecki said.

The University of Wisconsin-Stout took third place to advance to nationals, following the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in second and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in first with a score of 191.850.

Rolbiecki recognizes the success and potential in this year’s young team, and said their fourth-place finish at regionals places them in the top half of a tough conference.

“When I look at the other teams, the top seven or eight spots of their line-up are seniors who have been with the program for four years. We don’t have any of that… So I think the kids held their own beautifully against a senior-led conference,” Rolbiecki said. “These kids will be back, and they’re hungry, and I’m sure tomorrow when we meet they’re going to be eager and anxious and excited.”

The team hosted three meets this year, including the Brooke Baures Memorial Meet, but regionals was the biggest event the Warriors have hosted, according to Scala. She said there is a lot to set up, but the team was looking forward to the “loud and crazy” atmosphere.

Rolbiecki spent hours prepping for the big meet, according to the gymnasts. Pipp explained there is more that goes into a big meet than meets the eye.

“We have to set up the locker rooms for all the teams and we have to set up all the team areas,” Pipp said. “We have to get all the snacks, get all the mats, get everything in the right place with the right measurements so that the teams don’t come in and complain about it, or have anything not be up to regulation. So it’s kind of stressful for Beckie.”

However, a big meet like this is not all work and no fun. Many of the girls on the team’s hometowns are located in states as far as Tennessee, Louisiana and Oregon. The regionals meet was well attended by parents, encouraging the girls to do well for the home crowd.

Pipp said, “It really makes you more motivated to do the best for your team so that we can all go to nationals together.”

Despite not making it to the national level as a team, the Warrior gymnasts took home a slew of high team scores this season. Scala said the young team, nearly half comprised of first-years, has gained confidence throughout the meets.

“I think the biggest difference [from the beginning of the season] has been our confidence, especially since we have such a young team. At the beginning of the year, this was [the freshmen’s] first time competing in collegiate gymnastics,” Scala said.

Pipp and Jackson said they could feel the confidence levels change among first-years throughout the season.

First-year Haruko “Sunny” Hasebe performs a back-walkover during her balance beam routine at the regional gymnastics meet on Friday, March 17 in the McCown Gymnasium. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

First-year Haruko “Sunny” Hasebe performs a back-walkover during her balance beam routine at the regional gymnastics meet on Friday, March 17 in the McCown Gymnasium. (Photo by Kendahl Schlueter)

“The very first meet, you could see that everyone was timid and scared; they were nervous to [perform] their skills,” Pipp said. “There’s a lot of learning that they had to do.”

Jackson added a team mentality has also set in among the gymnasts.

“Now that we’re in season, they understand that we’re a team, and it’s not just about you,” she said.

Jackson, Pipp and Scala all agreed the season went well. Although the team went to nationals last year and will not progress this year, they scored consistently high all season.

“I think the season went really well compared to last year. Last year we were hitting 184 marks, and this year we’ve been hitting 186, 187. And that’s been really good. I think we were really confident in what we did, and our team was really strong,” Jackson said.

Pipp reflected on watching the freshman mature as gymnasts.

“I think that’s the highlight for me, is just being able to watch everybody grow up. I’m just proud of everybody,” Pipp said.

The team has no seniors, so the same group will have another shot at nationals next year together.

Scala said, “Our team has been really close, and that’s really exciting too, that we’re not losing anyone for next year.”

Jackson, Pipp and Johnston will compete individually at the NCGA National Meet beginning Friday, March 31 in Menomonie, Wisc. The whole Winona State gymnastics team will be heading to the meet to support the three Warriors

Rolbiecki said, “All three of them are talented kids and have been consistent all season long, so I’m excited to see what they can do. We’ll be well represented even if it isn’t the whole team. We’ll show them that Winona State has a high level and caliber of gymnastics that we’re putting out.”

By Emma Cavanaugh

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Gymnastics place fourth at regional meet