If the scores put up by gymnastics teams around the state this season are any indication, today’s state finals will come down to two teams.
Valparaiso and Columbus North.
The top-ranked Vikings and No. 2 Bull Dogs have consistently been the state’s top scoring teams this season. North had a slightly higher sectional score than Valpo, and the Vikings came back with a better regional score last week.
This afternoon at Ball State’s Worthen Arena, the teams will square off, along with seven other squads, for the state championship.
“It’s difficult when we’re on opposite ends of the state and not performing in front of the same group of judges,” North co-coach Sandy Freshour said. “We’re always interested to see how we stack up in front of the same judges.”
They’ll get that chance today, although not as part of the same rotation. While Valpo drew the Olympic rotation of vault-bars-beam-floor, the Bull Dogs will start on the floor, followed by vault, bars and beam.
“I’m not especially thrilled about that rotation, but the girls are used to it, and they’ve already proved that being in that type of rotation doesn’t seem to affect them,” North co-coach Bob Arthur said. “So I’m expecting good things.”
Not only did the Bull Dogs start on the floor in the Columbus East Regional, they began there in the East Sectional, when they scored a season-best 113.4.
East sophomore Becca Bryan, who qualified as an individual in the all-around competition, will be in the same rotation as the North and New Palestine teams and begin on the floor. That hasn’t always been conducive to high scores.
“The last couple of years, (judges have) gotten it right,” East coach Nancy Kirshman said. “There can be a state champion come right out of that first area. Years prior to that, that was a disaster there.”
Bryan, who finished 13th on the floor and 14th in the all-around in last year’s state meet in leading the Olympians to an eighth-place team finish, won the floor in last week’s regional.
“We haven’t seen the northern part of the state, but by scores she matches up very well with those girls,” Kirshman said. “It was good for her to go last year with her team. The experience was good for her.”
North has three girls back who competed at state last season, when it finished third. Junior Katrina May finished ninth in the all-around, sophomore Ashley Holliday took second on the bars and 15th in the all-around and senior Kaitlyn Barnes was 23rd in the all-around. They’re joined in all four events by freshman Claire Thompson.
“All our routines are packed with 10.0 start values, and they’re working really hard,” Freshour said. “So we’re right there with what we need to compete. Now we need to perform. We’ve worked really hard this week to pay attention to detail and every last little toe point.
“We certainly couldn’t work any harder or any diligent than we have,” she said. “We have two great captains (Barnes and May) leading us, and you combine that with the work ethic of Ashley Holliday and Claire Thompson, and the work that (freshman) Kaitlyn Calandro and (seniors) Tristan Gregg and Lauren Steigerwalt are putting in (as alternates), we’re going to give it a run.”
Valpo is the defending state champion, has won four of the past six state titles and owns a state-best 10 overall championships. North won state titles in 1973 and 1974 — the first two years the IHSAA held a state meet — and finished runner-up in 1986, 1987 and 2008.
“Our girls are aware they’re a powerhouse, and they know who we are,” Freshour said.
“I think we’re going to be just fine with Valpo,” Arthur said. “If we both hit, Valpo probably has the edge on us from what we’ve seen of their top scorers. We’re going to have to stay consistent.”
That hasn’t been a problem lately for the Bull Dogs. They hit 15 out of 16 routines without a fall in the sectional and went a perfect 16 for 16 in the regional.
“I think we have a great chance of winning it this year,” May said. “Valpo and us will be neck-and-neck throughout the whole entire meet, so we just have to have the meet of our lives, and we’re prepared.”
“We’ve proved time after time that we can hang there with Valpo,” Arthur said. “But we can’t really do anything about anybody else. All we can do is do our best job. Win, lose or draw, if those girls perform up to their capabilities, chances are we’ll be on top, and if not, we’ll have nothing to hang our head about.”
What: Gymnastics State Finals
When: 1 p.m. today
Where: Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie
Teams: Columbus North, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Dwenger, Homestead, Logansport, New Palestine, Owen Valley, Portage and Valparaiso
Local individuals: Becca Bryan (Columbus East), Alyssa Goen (Seymour)