ELKHART — A turn of the page on the ol’ calendar meant the two Kosciusko County high school gymnastics teams, Wawasee and Warsaw, kicked into their respective competition seasons. With the ushering in of 2013 meant a trip Thursday night to Elkhart for the annual Blazer Invite.
The atmosphere was lively inside Elkhart Central’s gymnastics-exclusive facility located in the quiet industrial park east of the ECHS campus. A standing-room only crowd saw five teams very familiar with each other taking aim at not only the Invite title, but a chance to start the season on the right foot.
Central didn’t disappoint its legion of fans, scoring 98.9 points, but Plymouth did Central one better by putting together a 99.1 for the team title. Wawasee were third at 93.55, Lakeland fourth at 90.85 and Warsaw fifth at 89.8.
All five teams are part of the Wawasee Sectional, which seems light years away from the first weekend of March. But as the teams began to kick off the rust, the goals were all the same. To get ready for early March.
“Our goal was just do what you can do,” said Wawasee head coach Nika Prather. “We did have some surprises tonight. This is a great invite to see what you can do the first time out.”
Prather rolled out her lineup that features five returners but only two with more than two seasons of service. Junior Emily Allen led Wawasee with a third-place score of 33.3 in the all-around, finishing in the top 10 of all four disciplines, taking fourth in both the bars (8.3) and beam (8.3). Senior Kim Garber finished sixth on floor with an 8.5.
“Emily is coming off about 10 weeks of dealing with a high ankle sprain,” Prather stated. “This is the first time she has done a floor routine with tumbling since then. For her to do as well as she did, I was thrilled. She did more than we expected. The competition brought out the best of her.
“Kimmie came out and did really well. She did bars for the first time and is now an all-around performer,” continued Prather. “For a senior to do that, pretty good. I think she did pretty well overall.”
Wawasee sophomore Taylor Busse scored a personal-high of 31.2 in the all-around, her best showing coming on the beam with a 7.5 for sixth place.
A protege of Prather’s in former Wawasee gymnast Andi Calhoun brought a patchwork Warsaw lineup to Elkhart. Missing sisters Jo and Katie Richard, still on holiday, along with Sam Alexander out with a broken foot, left a big void in the active list that had just three working Thursday night.
Junior Abbi Baum made the biggest impression for the shorthanded Warsaw club, taking fifth in the all-around at 31.85 and was third overall on bars with an 8.5. Receiving encouragement from not only the Warsaw brethren but also several of her fellow competitors and even Central head coach Kathy Krauter, Calhoun was very happy with Baum’s opening night.
“Abbi did pretty well, this was the first meet so obviously there were a lot of nerves,” Calhoun said. “Other than having a fall on beam and floor, she still looked absolutely amazing. She has a lot of confidence and is very polished.”
Sophomore Shannon Winslow gave the Lady Tigers a fifth-place score of 8.2 on beam and was eighth on the floor at 8.2.
Central were led by Holly Lehman, who won the floor (9.4) and bars (9.1) and was second on beam (8.7) and vault (8.75) to post a winning 35.95 all-around figure.
Plymouth used a big night from Cassie Quissell, who won the vault (8.8) and a championship win from Traci Longanecker on the beam (8.8) to push past Central for the trophy.
Lakeland were led by top 10 scores from the duo of Samantha Gieseking and Caitlyn Yoder.
Wawasee, which officially began its season Dec. 15 at the LaPorte Pairs, will hope to use the Blazer Invite to prepare for a very tough pair of roadies next week, visiting state powers Angola on Tuesday and Fort Wayne Carroll on Thursday. Angola is led by junior Alex Nickel, who won state titles on both beam and bars and was runner-up in the all-around competition.
“As far as the new kids, they don’t know about Carroll and Angola, I haven’t told them,” laughed Prather, letting the proverbial cat out of the bag. “They don’t know about how good the other two teams are. For them, their routines don’t change, their goals don’t change. Now the upperclassmen, they know. We just want to stick to the goals charts and focus on what we need to do. We can’t get caught up in watching Alex or anyone else.”
Warsaw will travel to East Noble next Tuesday before hosting Homestead on Jan. 15. Wawasee will host Warsaw on Jan. 22.
“I think this is a good eye opener to see for the girls,” Calhoun said of the night. “A lot of the girls are a little hesitant to try new skills. There are four other teams from the sectional here, and if you want to go further than the sectional, you see what they are doing and need to step it up.”