MUNCIE – Wawasee track head coach Scott Lancaster and his assistant coaches spent several minutes Tuesday in the Wawasee High School annex gym addressing the day’s aims and necessities. As the teams disbursed into the various parts of campus to start their preseason workouts, the annex gym suddenly became very quiet. For months, the annex has been abuzz with hopes and dreams of teams working for common goals. For WHS senior Reagan Atwood, the team is gone, but the hopes and dreams of a state title are right in front of her.
Atwood is making her first gymnastics state finals appearance this Saturday at the IHSAA Gymnastics State Finals at Ball State, and is doing so without the comforts of her team surrounding her, both in presence and in routine. The junior, qualifying for the finals on the floor – easily her most skillful and spectacular routine – won’t have teammates lined up in front of her to compete and take some of the load off. After fronting Wawasee to a runner-up finish at the sectional and fifth-place finish at regional, no other Lady Warrior except Atwood is left, making the training a little different than normal.
“It’s the little things that will add up,” offered Atwood, noting small detail like pointed toes and movement on landings all count as deductions. “I have to hit everything. In a dual meet, those things don’t necessarily matter a whole lot, but then go to a state championship and that’s everything. Instead of taking those steps, I need to hit my routine otherwise I’m not going to be close to those girls.”
As practice unfolded earlier in the week, Atwood was under the watchful eye of assistant coaches Allison Angel and Sarah Wegener as she stepped through her tumbling marks. Head coach Nika Prather, watching a few paces off the floor mat, would step in and tweak a minor detail, accent a motion, but otherwise let her junior exhibit her grace and fluidity.
Having not coached a state gymnast since 2003 when Lindsay Olsen went to state as an all-around competitor and finished third on beam has Prather had this extra week of work. The longtime Wawasee coach was adamant, however, that this is Atwood’s book and she needed to write the last chapter.
“I want to see Reagan at her full potential this weekend,” Prather said. “I want to see her make this the best she can possibly make it. There are things I would like to see her accomplish, but I can’t write her story. She has to do it. My chapters aren’t her chapters. I told her that all along. You are writing your own story, ‘My Journey To The State Meet’, and you have to write the final chapter, not me.”
Atwood’s penultimate chapter saw her score a 9.325 on floor, placing fourth at the Huntington North Regional last Friday. A discussion about the timing and a tenth-point deduction kept Atwood from second place, which went to Elkhart Central’s Analena Vanderzwaag at 9.4. Dwenger’s Amy Weilbaker posted the top floor score at the regional at 9.475. The lack of a full day of work at state, with Atwood falling short in tenth at 35.35 in the all-around, and not in the top six in any other discipline, along with her team unable to qualify in any format, leaves Atwood the lone Warrior. Watching her interact with Angel in practice, and taking cues from those observing, seems to calm Atwood some. The occasional congrats from a Wawasee staff member or student certainly helps.
“This is going to be a little more intimidating,” said Atwood of the expected environment at state. Atwood was a member of the cross country team that competed at semi-state this past fall. “I just have to think of this as another meet. I’m comfortable with my coaches, and that helps a lot. I’m by myself in the event, but they will be down there with me. I just have to think of it as another meet.
“I only have a couple things to worry about in my routine, which is nice because in a normal meet I would have four events to work on,” continued Atwood. “A normal practice and week you go from thing to thing. This is a little relaxing because I have always done all-around, so I’ve had four routines to worry about. This should be a lot better.”
Atwood, possibly to her suit, is competing last in her heat of the floor, paired with teams from Fort Wayne Dwenger and Columbus East.
Elkhart Central, which has very high hopes coming into the state tournament, had several of those crash very hard in the past 14 days. After winning the sectional title going away, the team lost sophomore sensation Abi Downs to a knee injury on the final event of the sectional afternoon. Without Downs at the regional, Central finished fourth and lost the coveted team position needing top three. It also only got two individuals out to state in sophomore Vanderzwaag on floor (and sixth at 36.15 in all-around) and senior Kiara Stabler on bars, who posted a 9.0 to tie for fifth. Elkhart was ranked No. 9 in the state in the final poll.
The Flying Dutchman is paired with Columbus North and Homestead as well as Franklin Central’s Khloe Dykes in the all-around events, Stabler joining in the bars rotation.
The IHSAA State Finals will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at Worthen Arena on the campus of Ball State University. Columbus North is the defending state champion and has two returning individual champions in Claire Thompson and Ashley Holliday, Thompson winning bars and beam last year and Holliday winning bars in 2015. Thompson comes into the finals with the top score from regional at 9.675 on bars and the top all-around at 38.225. Holliday comes in with the best vault score at 9.75.
Sophia Hunzelman of Chesterton has the top beam score at 9.75 and Kelsey Schermer of Bloomington South has the top floor score at 9.725.
Valparaiso has the top team score heading into the finals at 113.15, followed by Chesterton (112.40), Dwenger (111.275), Bloomington South (110.85), Merrillville (109.225), Columbus East (108.925), Fort Wayne Carroll (108.625) and Homestead (108.050).