VALPARAISO and Fort Wayne Dwenger are the favorites heading into Saturday’s Gymnastics State Finals.
But Columbus North coach Sandy Freshour thinks the Bull Dogs have a shot at the title, as well. North and Columbus East will be among nine teams vying for the crown at Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
“If we hit our routines, we are capable of winning,” Freshour said. “It’s a longshot to hit every single routine, but anybody can do it on any given day.”
The Bull Dogs are coming off their highest two scores of the season, a 109.75 in winning the East Sectional and a 109.55 in capturing last week’s East Regional. The Olympians finished third with a 104.925 in the sectional and second with a 106.0 in the regional.
“Vaulting is still a concern for us, but everywhere else, I think we’re OK,” East coach Nancy Kirshman said. “Our mindset is to go up there and do the best possible job we can and hopefully have a season-high score.”
Top-ranked Valparaiso (111.7), which won its own regional, and No. 2 Dwenger (110.85), which won at Huntington North, posted the highest two regional scores. North, which is tied for No. 6, posted 109.55, the third-best score.
“We don’t get too worked up about scores because the scores are different from region to region, judging to judging,” Freshour said. “The only thing that we can do is look at where we were deducted and try to be deducted less this week. Every little toe point, every little head focus, everything, is what we’re working on.”
No. 3 Portage (108.975) and No. 4 Merrillville (108.0), which finished second and third at Valparaiso, had the fourth- and fifth-best regional scores. Co-No. 10 East’s 106.0 ranked sixth.
“Valpo is always the favorite because they come in from the northern part of the state, and judging is a little bit different in the northern part of the state,” Kirshman said. “Everybody down here takes a full tenth or a half-tenth; they take quarter-tenths off.
“They have good gymnasts,” she said. “Valpo has a feeder system of four private clubs, and when you have four private clubs feeding into your high school program, you have a pretty dynamic program. You don’t have to do a whole lot. Those girls already know what they’re doing. But Valpo was the favorite (two years ago), and Bishop Dwenger took it right away from them.”
Portage won last year’s state championship. Valparaiso has been runner-up the past two years after winning four consecutive titles from 2008-11, giving it a record nine overall.
Freshour agreed that Valparaiso and Dwenger are the teams to beat.
“Dwenger is (2012) state champs, and Valpo is a perennial powerhouse working year-round in their gym,” Freshour said. “They both have great coaches that are experienced. They’re powerhouses year in and year out. They have traditions, and we would love to upset one of those traditions, but we’ll have to bring our A game for sure.”
The Bull Dogs received a big boost in the regional when sophomore Katrina May was able to compete in the all-around for the first time since severely spraining an ankle in mid-January. May won the all-around title with a 36.925.
Freshman Ashley Holliday was the all-around champion in the sectional with a 36.925. North also has senior Megan Heathcote and junior Kaitlyn Barnes back from last year’s team that finished fourth at state.
“I think our chances are really good,” May said. “We’ve had a great week. We’re so excited for state, and I think this is the most prepared we can be.”
“We’re excited,” Heathcote said. “I think we have great potential going into this weekend to place in the top four or even one or two if we hit, especially with Katrina back in the all-around.”
The Olympians, meanwhile, surprised perhaps everyone but themselves in making a return trip to state. Junior Jaycie Jaggers is the lone all-around returner from last year’s fifth-place team, while senior Samantha Rose competed in one event.
“That was not out of our sights from the very beginning at all,” Kirshman said. “This is where we have said we were going to be when we finished. You know the caliber of gymnasts you have coming back, and in the summer, you have a feel for what’s happening when you have the open workouts. So I had no doubt that we were capable of getting back to the state meet.”
“I did think that we could make it to state with a lot of hard work because I knew we had some freshmen coming in who could help us,” Jaggers said.
Those freshmen are veteran club gymnasts Becca Bryan and Seena Greiwe. Bryan finished second in the all-around in both the sectional (36.525) and regional (36.85).
Bryan, Jaggers and Greiwe compete in the all-around for East. Rose does the vault, beam and floor, while junior Olivia Frownfelter competes on the bars.
The Olympians are shooting for a top-four finish, which would put them on the medals stand.
“You don’t know what anybody else is going to do,” Kirshman said. “All it takes is a couple falls (from other teams) here and there; and if you don’t have those, you’re right back in the thick of it.”
“We’re excited we made it this far,” Jaggers said. “This was our goal, so we’ll just go there and do our best and see what the outcome is.”