by KEGAN GATES
The gymnastics season is coming to an end and the Rockford gymnastics team is continually moving forward with scores and team unity. November came quickly, and with rumor of no coach, the gymnasts worried they may not have a season. Rockford Athletic Director Tim Erickson made it a point to keep gymnastics alive for Rockford and sought out coaches, Emily Nelson and Kegan Gates. As rookie high school coaches, everyone knew it would be a unique season for Rockford.
The team started out with a total of six girls; four of them returning from last year and two senior girls returning from their freshman year. These six recruited and found seven more girls for a final team of 13, seven of whom have never done gymnastics before.
The season began with fears of not doing very well with the loss of talented last-season seniors. However, the first competition proved that to be false. The girls won the first three-team competition against Lowell and Freeland. It was a great boost for both coaches and team, and everyone wanted more.
As this season continues, each girl individually progresses. Together, the Rockford team made a poster of team goals and, within the first four competitions, 75 percent of the goals were achieved.
January 22 was a huge meet for the girls, who traveled to Lowell High School early Saturday morning for an invitational. Lowell hosted Adrian, East Kentwood, Forest Hills, Kenowa Hills/Grandville, Mona Shores and Rockford.
“We had no idea what kind of scores Adrian posted, and Kenowa Hills/Grandville is usually four or five points out of our reach. So right before march-in during our ‘pump-up huddle,’ we decided to only worry about beating our own scores and goals that day,” commented Coach Gates. “We had consistently been scoring 128s, and one of our captains, Jenelle Miller, said, ‘Let’s get a 130 today.’ The girls agreed and excitedly put their hands in for a Rockford team chant.”
The Lady Rams began on balance beam, a tough place to start, but the team handled the pressure beautifully and counted no falls. Steady beam worker and senior captain Katie Palmisano stuck a routine and received an 8.2. Senior Lexi Merchant earned an 8.4. Sophomore Colleen Conroy posted an 8.75, with the addition of a round-off earlier that week. Junior Jenelle Miller scored a season-high 8.85. The girls’ team beam score was 34.2, a team high.
The Rockford girls were ecstatic and ready for the floor. The floor event is solid for Rockford, and the girls did well. Senior Leah Harris added a front-tuck front-tuck tumbling pass and scored an 8.225. The girls had solid routines and only counted strong 8’s, having a team floor score of 33.475.
After the vault event, Rockford’s team score was 101.825, with only bars, their weakest event, left.
“Our girls huddled and told one another to stay tight and do clean routines,” said Gates.
On vault, Palmisano scored a personal best of 7.0. Junior Maggie Setterington posted a 7.525, Miller a 7.65, and Conroy scored a team and personal high of 8.25. The Lady Rams scored 30.42, a team high for the second time in this competition.
“Rockford gymnasts did it,” said Gates. “We beat our previous team scores and scored their goal of a 130. In fact, we beat that goal and scored a 132.3. That was enough for us, but to top it off, Lexi, Jenelle and Colleen placed on individual events and received medals, and as a team we placed second in the meet, beating unknown Adrian, and walked away with a trophy.”
The Rockford team has been working diligently ever since. Each gymnast is adding new skills, jumps and choreography to their routines in order to always be improving. They placed fourth at the Kenowa Hills/Grandville Invitational, which featured a few eastside teams including Grand Ledge, who placed first. Conory and Miller competed gorgeous beam routines that both earned nines—Conory a 9.0 and Miller a 9.15, both earning medals.
“[Coach] Emily and I could not have been more proud,” commented Gates.
The Lady Rams’ next big competition is conference, and the girls are working vigorously with a drive to place in the top three.
“Our team has become incredibly close and we share plenty of laughs,” said Gates. “The girls are working hard and having fun. Every girl brings something wonderful to the team. We are hoping to go to state as a team, and we see this as a very achievable goal. The next couple of weeks will be dedicated to cleaning up routines and preparing for the competitions to come. Go Rams!”