Veteran Natayla Franz leading a Winona gymnastics squad hungry to get to state

Senior Natayla Franz feels like she has been around for a decade and now she is hoping to help guide a talented but young Winona team to an elusive section title.

Section 1A Gymnastics
Winona/Cotter's Natayla Franz performs her vault routine during the Section 1A Championships on Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022 at Winona Middle School.
Alex VandenHouten / Post Bulletin

WINONA — There are times as Natayla Franz looks around the Winona High gymnastics gym and sees her young teammates, that she can’t help but feel like the old lady.

She’s the Winhawks' only senior. Some of her teammates were in grade school when Franz first became a key figure for Winona/Winona Cotter coach Brittany Steine, as just an eighth-grader.

Truth be told, it feels like Franz has been sporting the black and orange of Winona for closer to a decade.

"I feel like I’ve been here for a long time," Franz said with a laugh. "I’ve seen a lot of people come and go, but it’s exciting to meet the new kids and get closer to people I wouldn’t necessarily have (otherwise)."

Through all the new faces, Franz has remained consistent for the Winhawks each step of the way.


The senior has been a prominent competitor in the Big Nine Conference, has won Section 1A titles and is a multi-time state meet qualifier. This year, she has found her rhythm both in and out of the gym.

"Natayla is definitely experienced," Steine said. "She's been to state several times, and honestly, this is the most consistent she's ever performed. So she's really stepping into that role as a senior and a consistent performer and an anchor that can hit regularly and that's been a huge score."

That consistency has been even more prominent for a squad that features six underclassmen in the varsity lineup.

Franz takes pride in being the elder stateswoman of a group that may be young but has plenty of talent. It’s why Franz believes this group can do something that is missing on her impressive resume: A trip to the Class A team state meet.

“It would be really exciting,” Franz said. “I think that we have a chance this year to make it happen.”

Once again, there are plenty of talented gymnasts in the area. But this year the pool of talent seems deeper than in year's past.

Winona has not been to state since 2006, though it has come close multiple times since then, including last year, when the Winhawks were the section runners-up.

Franz feels confident this is the team to break through.

She is one of four returning state-meet qualifiers, joining sophomore Makenna Schroeder, freshman Pippa Serleth and sophomore Nevaeh Mitchell.


This group is simply unique. The Winhawks' gymnasts enjoy being around each other, they enjoy training with each other and just seem to generally enjoy each other’s company.

"We just like being goofy," Mitchell said. "It makes it that much better to come to practice. And we really do have a lot of fun at practice."

"Like even at practice, sometimes we're dancing together and singing," junior and fellow leader Hanalei Hocum added, "but we are able to still focus on our skills at the same time."

Steine has had a lot of great groups during her years as Winona's coach, but even she thinks this one stands out. The Winhawks have the talent and are loose, but have a desire to finally capture that elusive Section 1A title.

“This is a really fun bunch of kiddos,” Steine said. “We have a couple that have been on the team previously, so they have some experience and you know, unfortunately, their whole high school career we've pretty much finished second in sections and so there's definitely some with a little chip on their shoulder that they're fired up and ready to get after it.”

The Winhawks also received a big boost from sophomore Savannah Gabel, who is in her first season competing for the high school program after previously competing in club gymnastics. She has won the all-around at more than one meet this season and adds another talented gymnast to an already deep lineup. So far it seems to be all coming together.

At 138.800, Winona has the top score in Section 1A this season entering Saturday’s Section 1A meet at Austin.

Last year, it was Byron that broke a long drought with a section title. Could the Winhawks be next? They certainly think so.


“We all want that top spot,” Hocum said. “Especially for me and Natayla and a couple others on the team. We've been on the team for so long, and we always play second and I think we just have a really big drive to get that top spot.

"We all have individual goals set for ourselves, which then make our team come together. We're focusing not only on ourselves but pushing each other to their own potential. And then we kind of all come together and make it work.”

Alex VandenHouten has been a sports reporter at the Post Bulletin since Sept. 2021. He loves to go hiking, biking, snowshoeing and just simply being outdoors with his wife Olivia. Readers can reach Alex at
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