SYRACUSE – Nika Prather scurried around the Wawasee annex gym as she usually does on meet nights. Tending to all the little things she has for over 30 years, the veteran coach didn’t even notice the extra sets of familiar eyes in the gym Tuesday night. Over two dozen of her former gymnasts and coaches returned to Wawasee to send off their mentor in style as part of the final home meet for Prather and the Lady Warriors against Plymouth.
Despite a 99.375-98.475 loss to the visiting Pilgrims, to which Prather expelled merely a shrug and a congratulatory clap to Plymouth across the gym as the scores were announced, it was more about the sentiment. Prather was unaware the program would celebrate her recent announcement she is retiring from high school gymnastics coaching. The buzz around the gym helped Wawasee post its best team score of the season, as well as its only senior, Aundreya Wegener, to post a career-high figure as well.
In its lead up to the sectional this weekend, Wawasee was aiming to create some kind of momentum for the tournament it will host on Saturday. It’s 98.475 points were a start, as it is likely in a group of about five teams that will compete for the third team spot for a regional berth.
The strength of that team score came from Wegener, who posted a career-high 9.55 on floor and 35.6 all-around number in her last dual performance. Wegener also tossed in a no-fall 9.3 on beam and 7.85 on bars to lead the meet in each of the categories. Wegener’s 8.9 on vault was really her only slip up, not sticking either her two landings, causing her to settle for third place.
While the attention was on Prather for most of the night in her retirement, Wegener quietly stole the show.
“It is more of a rhythm right now, especially on beam,” Wegener said. “I was able to stay on the beam and hit the bigger skills. On floor, I’m just trying to clean some stuff up that seemed to work tonight.”
Added Prather on her senior, “Very happy for Drey to score what she did on beam and floor. She did a wonderful floor routine and scored her best-ever score and also had the no-fall on the beam. Really happy to see her do well in her final meet before the sectional.”
Talia Kuhl continued to fly high for Wawasee on the vault, scoring an 8.95 to finish runner-up to Plymouth’s Tessa Hutchinson and her 9.2. As for the dual scoring, however, Wawasee didn’t have another top-three in their totals against Plymouth, which is one of the teams in the jumble for that third ticket to the Huntington Regional.
While the night was built around her future, Prather was still wearing her coaching hat in the moment Tuesday.
“We just have to go out and have fun Saturday,” Prather said. “We can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing or where we might be. It would take a little luck, but we were only three points off Elkhart earlier this year. We showed we can compete with Plymouth. Angola and DeKalb are out of range for us, they have too much talent. But why not shoot for that third spot? We have to clean some things up, but tonight was a good indicator that we can perform at a higher level.”
Dorothy Karris spun a 34.2 all-around that included seconds on bars (7.75), beam (8.8) and floor (8.95). Kyla Heckaman also scored 8.95 on floor for the Pilgrims.
Wawasee will host the Wawasee Gymnastics Sectional starting at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the annex gym. The top six placers in each of the four events plus all-around earn automatic berths to the regional round. The top three teams also move on.