Sami Heathcote was destined to become a gymnast.

Her older sister Megan and cousin Tessa Lane were gymnasts on state medal-winning Columbus North teams. Another cousin, Morgan Lane, was a state champion club gymnast and is now a junior competing at University of North Carolina.

So to say Sami Heathcote has always been around gymnastics would be a classic understatement.

“I just grew up with the sport,” she said. “It was a part of my life.”

This fall, she faced a big decision when she entered her freshman year at North. Would she compete for the high school team like her sister and older cousin, or would she stick with the club and try for a college scholarship like Morgan Lane?

Sami Heathcote chose the former.

“I knew that I didn’t want to do college gymnastics, so it was better to do high school because it is more relaxed and more fun,” she said. “It’s great because I have a lot more time to hang out with friends and to do my homework, and I can still do a lot of gymnastics and keep my skills.”

She’s been able to do that so far. She’s been a solid No. 3 gymnast for a defending state champion Bull Dogs team that is ranked No. 2 in the state.

Friday night, she finished fourth on the vault and fifth on the floor on her way to a fifth-place all-around finish. Her 36.375 all-around score was just short of her personal-best of 36.45.

“She has been super coachable all season long and willing to work to get those higher scores and start values,” North co-coach Sandy Freshour said.

Coming into the season, Sami Heathcote was faced with the pressure of having her scores replace those of the graduated Katrina May. May was the all-around state runner-up last season in helping lead the Bull Dogs to the state title.

But Freshour and the other co-coach, Bob Arthur, didn’t see it that way.

“I don’t think we had any real thoughts, and I hope she didn’t either that she was trying to fill those shoes that Katrina left, but she’s come pretty doggone close,” Arthur said. “She’s a hard-working girl. She reminds me a whole lot of Claire (Thompson). She is an aggressive competitor, and she comes into the gym ready to go for things.”

Thompson, the defending state all-around champion, and senior Ashley Holliday have helped bring Sami Heathcote along this season. They have worked with her on her form, while Tessa Lane has given her advice.

Megan Heathcote is a junior at Indiana University who is studying abroad in Italy this semester. She has been Face-Timing with her sister and watching her routines, as well.

Sami Heathcote has received at least a 9 on the vault, beam and floor, but not the bars. She hopes to get all 9s at the state meet and have the entire team hit all of their routines like it did last year, when it set a state-meet record for the highest score.

“It’s been really amazing to come in as a freshman and to be able to do that well,” Heathcote said. “I felt a little bit of pressure, but there are also a lot of gymnasts who are right around the same level. They’re good to be able to step in when one of us doesn’t do as well.”

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.