Austin gymnasts claim sixth consecutive section title
The Austin Packers gymnastics team rolled into Pine Island on Saturday as the overwhelming favorite to claim its sixth consecutive Section 1A team title, and that's exactly what happened — but the meet did produce at least one surprise.
Austin senior Maddie Mullenbach is the reigning state all-around champion in Class A. She'll have an opportunity to defend that title, but she won't be doing it as the Section 1A all-around champion. Her teammate, junior Jennifer Boyle, claimed that distinction with a score of 38.375 to top Mullenbach's 38.050.
Two events told the tale, as Mullenbach slipped off the beam and earned a score of 9.075, and Boyle posted a Section 1A record 9.775 on the bars.
After the meet, Boyle struggled to explain her spectacular performance. "I have no idea where this came from," she said. "There was a lot of pressure, but I just had a really good day today."
Mullenbach won the vault and floor exercise, while Boyle won the beam, bars and all-around as the Packers dominated the meet, posting a team score of 148.075. Pine Island, hosting the section meet for the first time in more than a decade, was second with a score of 143.075.
Been there before
Matt Schmidt, in his first year as head coach of the Packers, said experience helped his team. "Our girls have competed in some big meets this year and last year, so we've been there before," he said. "They worked really hard all year, and all of those long hours in the gym paid off. I'm really proud of the girls."
Schmidt said Boyle's performance did not surprise him. "Jennifer had a slow start to the year, but she's really come on strong," he said. "Maddie's been really consistent all year, and they've pushed each other to be better."
Pine Island's dream of pulling off an upset didn't come true, but it was nevertheless a big day for the Panthers, who will be sending three gymnasts to the state meet. Leading the way was eighth-grader Sawyer Gorman, who on Saturday finished third in the vault, second in floor exercise and third in the all-around. The top four finishers in each event go on to state.
"I just wanted to do the best I could," Gorman said. "I knew the competition was going to be really tough, but I just wanted to do my best — and the crowd pumped me up." Gorman is a veteran of the state tournament, and she's excited about making a return trip. "I know what it's like, so hopefully I'll be less nervous this year!" she said.
Accompanying Gorman to state will be teammate Jaci Newman, also an eighth-grader, who had a nail-biting meet. She lost a tiebreaker to place fifth in bars and also was fifth in the all-around, missing a state berth by just two-tenths of a point. But she nailed her second vault, earning a 9.45 to claim the final state berth in that event.
"It was one of my better vaults," she said, and she credited both her coach and the home crowd for helping her. "It was pretty awesome to see how many people showed up to watch. It was really encouraging." This will be Newman's first trip to state.
Also going to the state meet for Pine Island will be junior Brynn Olson, who placed third in floor exercise with a score of 9.475. This will be her second trip to state, having qualified two years ago in vault and the all-around.
A strong finish
Panthers head coach Chris Templeton said his team struggled a bit Saturday with its first two events, the beam and uneven bars, then finished strong. "We had a dynamite rotation on the floor and vault, which have been our two strongest events all year," he said. "We're sending two girls to state in each of those events."
Templeton said hosting the event at Pine Island High School was fun, but it also added a certain amount of pressure for the home team.
"Our girls already put so much pressure on themselves to do well," he said. "They know Austin has two really good gymnasts, which leaves only two spots open, so our girls try to be perfect all the time. Sometimes when you try to be perfect you tighten up. Jaci Newman was one of the girls who put a lot of extra pressure on herself this week, so it was fun to see her hit that vault at the end of the meet."
Section 1A gymnastics
Austin 148.075, Pine Island 143.075, Winona/Cotter 140.925, Byron 138.675,
Red Wing 135.350, La Crescent 126.775, K-M/Triton 124.750, Stewartville/Chatfield 121.975,
Caledonia/Spring Grove/Houston 98.0
Vault — 1. Maddie Mullenbach (A) 9.650; 2. Jennifer Boyle (A) 9.550; 3. Sawyer Gorman (PI) 9.550; 4. Jaci Newman (PI) 9.425 . Bars —1. Jennifer Boyle (A) 9.775; 2. Maddie Mullenbach (A) 9.550; 3. Paige Raymond (A) 9.025; 4. Chloe Hughes (W) 8.650. Beam —1. Jennifer Boyle (A) 9.600; 2. Adamary Rosas (W) 9.150; Maddie Mullenbach (A) 9.075; 4. Ashley Wilkowski (W) 9.025. Floor —1. Maddie Mullenbach (A) 9.775; 2. Sawyer Gorman (PI) 9.5; 3. Brynn Olson (PI) 9.475 4. Jennifer Boyle (A) 9.450. All-around —Jennifer Boyle (A) 38.375; 2. Maddie Mullenbach (A) 38.050; 3. Sawyer Gorman (PI) 36.650; 4. Paige Raymond (A) 36.150.