Emma Cooper had more than two hours at last week’s Connersville Regional to contemplate her sprint down the runway and vault over the horse into a landing.
As a one-event specialist, the Columbus North junior has had the advantage of focusing on one event at practice. But that sometimes can turn into a disadvantage when their team happens to do that event on its final rotation.
“At regional, it was tough,” Cooper said. “Vault was the very last event and the only one I do, so it was quite a long wait. But it’s nice to be able to focus on one event and not have to worry about all four.”
Sophomore Alayne Davis has been on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was the very first competitor of the state meet on the floor last year, when she also did the bars.
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Last week, the North sophomore was able to do her one event, the bars, first.
“Bars has been my best event,” Davis said. “It was kind of nice at regional because bars was the first event that we competed, so it was the last event we warmed up for. So I didn’t have much wait time in between, whereas at sectional, it was the last thing we competed, so I was in Emma’s boat where I had to wait a very long time.”
Cooper and Davis are among two of four North girls who competed on one event in the sectional, joining all-arounders Claire Thompson, Sami Heathcote and Tova Edwards. Senior Kaitlyn Calandro did the beam, and sophomore Ashley Niebrugge did the floor.
Niebrugge competed on both the beam and floor at the regional. The Bull Dogs will be on the floor last in today’s state finals at Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
“We typically warm up as a team in the beginning, but that’s four hours before I actually compete, so it’s kind of tough keeping my body warm and stretched out,” Niebrugge said. “Mainly, I just stretch throughout the competition and make sure that I’m still warm. It’s kind of fun having floor last because the scores are awesome at the end of meets, typically.”
Niebrugge, who finished fifth in the regional with a 9.1 on the beam, might not be able to to that event or the floor today. She sprained an ankle in practice Wednesday and was limited in practice Thursday.
Calandro, who has competed on the vault and beam at state each of the past two years, is ready to go on the beam today if needed, especially since she’s been focusing on that event most of the season.
“It’s easier to go through practice and just focus on beam,” Calandro said. “I kind of like having beam later in the meet, just because it was maybe less pressure.”
If Niebrugge can’t go on the floor today, Davis or possibly another sophomore, Grace Ellis, could replace her as North’s fourth competitor on that event.
Typically, the No. 4 gymnast on an event goes first for a team, followed by the No. 3, No. 2 and No. 1 gymnasts.
“Anytime you can start off with your fourth person getting a high score, it does take some of the additional pressure and nerves off of the third person,” North co-coach Bob Arthur said. “Then, if the third person hits, then that makes it easier for the second and then the first. You can afford a blunder on each event, but you certainly don’t want it because you definitely want to be going in with a certain level of comfort from gymnast to gymnast as you go up the line.”
Arthur said a team would be blessed to have four strong all-arounders, such as the Bull Dogs had in 2014 with Katrina May, Ashley Holliday, Kaitlyn Barnes and Megan Heathdote and in 2015 with May, Holliday, Thompson and Barnes. In 2016, North won the state title with Thompson, Holliday and May competing in the all-around and Calandro and Edwards each doing two events.
Third-ranked Columbus East, who beat North in the regular season and the sectional before finishing second behind the Bull Dogs in the regional, has four solid all-arounders in Adi Minor, Taylor Gaskill, Taylen Lane and Abby Lewis.
“I would say a team that would have four very strong all-arounders would be pretty blessed,” Arthur said. “We’ve had that before, but it’s actually kind of nice to have some of the girls specialize and focus on just getting very tough on the event they’re working.”
Fifth-ranked North hopes to challenge East, along with No. 1 Chesterton, No. 2 Valparaiso and No. 4 Fort Wayne Carroll for the state title today. Valpo edged the Bull Dogs by three-tenths of a point for last year’s state crown.
This year, North will have an Olympic Rotation, meaning it will start on the vault.
“We got a good draw, and we just have to be confident and go out and put in 100 percent and do our best,” Calandro said. “Luckily, everyone has been at state, and they know what to expect. So they know how it’s going to work out.”
Gymnastics State Finals
When: 1 p.m. today (opening ceremonies start at 12:30 p.m.)
Where: Worthen Arena, 1699 W. Bethel Ave., Muncie
Teams: Columbus East, Columbus North, Chesterton, Fort Wayne Carroll, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Homestead, Portage, Seymour, Valparaiso