Seniors shine at final home meet


Natalie Tyler

The Winona State Gymnastics Team lines up at the start of a dual meet against Hamline University and the University of Wisconsin Whitewater last Friday in McCown Gymnasium. This meet was also senior night where the team honored seniors Eboni Jackson, Katie Pipp, Gianna Scala, Katie Carling and Emily Woitchek.

Sydney Mohr, Features Editor

Winona State University Women’s Gymnastics came in second place in their home meet against University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Hamline University on Friday, Jan. 26 with a score of 186.400.

The meet, which took place in the McCown Gym, was dedicated to the five seniors who are graduating this spring. Katie Carling, Eboni Jackson, Katie Pipp, Gianna Scala and Emily Woitchek were led onto the mat by their parents after the underclassmen took onto the court.

Coach Rolbiecki said, “The Senior Day is a meet to honor the seniors of the team and to thank them for everything they have done for the program and give them special recognition for all they have done for us,” Coach Rolbiecki said.

What was also exciting for some of the seniors was that a few of their fellow teammates, now  Winona State alumni, traveled from across the country to cheer them on in their celebratory meet. Winona State’s athletic department hosted the second annual “Gymnastic Alumni Reunion” for former athletes of the Women’s Gymnastics team, and many alumni showed to the event.

Mary Turba, a 2003 graduate, said she was very excited to be back in Winona for the first time in years for the meet.

“I love coming back here and seeing what has changed in the city, but I also love coming back to watch these girls perform. Gymnastics was my one and only passion, and I still have a strong love for it,” Turba said.

Natalie Tyler
Senior Eboni Jackson gets surrounded by teammates congratulating her on her vault routine during the meet against Hamline University and The University of Wisconsin Whitewater on Friday, Jan. 26 in the McCown Gymnasium. During her time on the team Jackson was the 2016 NCGA All-American First Team – Balance Beam, 2016 NCGA National Champion All-Around, 2017 NCGA All-American Second Team – All-Around, 2017 NCGA All-American First Team – Floor and the 2017 NCGA National Champion Floor.

Along with Turba, there was a group of girls ranging from graduating class of 2015 to 2017 that made an appearance, a few of the young women flying all the way from Denver, Colorado.

“It’s so interesting. The world around me feels as if it has changed so fast, but it feels like time on [Winona State’s] campus has just stood still.” Dani Thenell, graduating class of 2015, said. “But it’s fun to come back for this meet. These seniors were all freshmen when I was a senior, so it’s great to cheer them on in one of their last meets.”

Chatter filled the Warrior Room in the Integrated Wellness Complex (IWC) as the alumni spent time catching up, and also reminiscing on old memories of their time on the gymnastics team. Laughter and squeals spilled throughout the room as they talked about their trip to Alaska for two meets in 2015 and how there were bitter moments of their time.

Veronica Peterson, graduating class of 2017, was glad to be done with her career in athletics.

“I don’t miss it! The pain of the tumbles and putting on a leotard, I definitely don’t miss it. But I love being able to come back to the new gym, it gives a whole different atmosphere to the meets,” Peterson said.

Jade Donaldson and Brooke Hiestand-Rapchak, graduating class of 2016, agreed with Peterson.

“It’s really enjoyable to be on the other side of things. It’s bittersweet to see [the seniors] who were sophomores when we graduated in their last of their meets.”

Once the alumni left the Warrior Room and headed down into McCown Gym, current Winona Athletes rushed to the entrance of the gymnasium to greet their old friends who had come to visit with excitement and many hugs.

After many reunions, the Winona State Gymnastics team, the parents of current athletes and their alumni athletes circled up into one last pep talk before the meet started. Heads bowed, hands locked, the group of people who have created a family within Winona State listened quietly to the speech before erupting into loud bursts of cheers and chanting to pump each other up.

Before they started announcing the gymnast’s names from Winona State, the Alumni made a bridge at the beginning corner of the court for the underclassmen to run under and enter onto the mat. As the names of athletes were called, they ran either onto the mat or into the crowd to deliver letters to their parents or hugs to their friends who were at the meet to support them.

The seniors, all announced last, were led onto the mat slowly with their parents by their sides. Most parents had gifted their daughters with flowers and had tears in their eyes as they led their little girls onto to mat for one of the last times.

Before things started off, Coach Rolbiecki stepped up to the microphone and had one simple message for her Warriors.

“I just want to tell all you seniors that I love you.”

The Warriors started out the meet on vault. Leah Messelt landed her first vault with a score of 9.15, earning cheers and high fives from teammates. Anna Hiller, one of the new first years on the team, took to vault next, and placed a 9.175. Hiller was a bit nervous for her first season at Winona State.

“It’s definitely a transition [from high school] but it’s been really fun so far this season, and I am excited for what the rest of season will bring,” Messelt said.

Messelt also said that she became very bonded with her teammates over winter break, since they spent much of their time in practice and hanging out together.

Currin, Jackson, Utz, and Scala all also competed in vault, ending the round with a score of 46.450.

In between rounds the girls lounged on the gym floor, chatting, laughing and singing along to the music blasting through the gym.

The Warriors moved to bars in their second event. Shelsea Zehr, Pipp, Hiller, Carling, Jackson, and Alexis Burton all performed on beams, taking the top six places. Each girl performed their routines without issue.

Pipp took the highest score out of the Warriors with a 9.375, and their overall total was 45.825 for the end of bars.

In between bars and beam, the athletes continued to stretch and keep their muscles warmed up while also dancing and keeping each other entertained and in light spirits.

Natalie Tyler
First year Shelsea Zehr completes her routine on the bars on Friday, Jan. 26 against Hamline University and the University of Wisconsin Whitewater. Zehr competes in the vault, floor and bar events, and at Friday’s meet she scored a 9.050 on the uneven bars.

No matter what event, the athletes who weren’t competing would surround the mat where their teammate was performing and scream to their heart’s content, giving positive vibes and cheer ups to teammates as they went through their routines.

Jackson had a strong start to beams with a score of 9.750. Hiller, Kelly Johnston, Carling, Mikaela Sellner and Miranda Saathoff also performed throughout the event, taking in the top six scores for Winona State in this event. Saathoff celebrated her score of 9.475 with a victory dance and a round of high fives from her teammates after her dismount. The Warriors ended beam with a score of 47.025.

Their last round was floor. Jackson shone on the floor with a big smile and even bigger shimmies, clenching the top score of 9.750 for floor. Other top competitors for the round were Pipp, Messelt, Breanna Murray, Utz, and Woitchek. With renditions of Albatross and other upbeat medleys, the Warriors were able to end the round with a score of 47.100.

Before final scores for the meet were announced, the Winona State seniors were called once again to the front of the court and were presented with a special gift from other teammates. Each athlete was gifted a picture frame of them during a routine, and a mason jar filled with slips of paper that other teammates had written their favorite memories with them on. Underclassmen also gave speeches about each individual senior and their favorite memories and how much they will miss them. Tears were shed by seniors and teammates alike as they reminisced on their time at Winona State.

Before final scores were announced, individual round winners were stated. Jackson ended taking first in vault and beam, second in floor, and took All-Around for the third meet this season. Jackson shared her feelings about winning All-Around once again.

“I’m very grateful that I’m doing super well in my last season with Winona State, and I’m confident that I will keep doing the best for myself and my team,” Jackson said.

Winona State ended up taking second in their home meet, with University of Wisconsin-Whitewater taking first and Hamline University taking third.

“We’re going to keep our heads up,” Rolbiecki said. “All of our girls have a common goal, and that goal is to get to nationals. With the wisdom of our seniors and the energy from our freshman, I see no problem in getting to nationals.”

The next meet for the Warriors will be Sunday, Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. at Illinois State University, the second of four away meets this season.