Raider gymnasts head to state competition
Call them “The Dynamic Duo.”
Even though they go to different schools, Patrick Henry’s Kristen Valasek and Atlee’s Skylar Lambert are good friends, their teams practice together, and one pushes the other to greater heights. Saturday, it equaled a 1-2 finish in the All-Around competition at the Central Region Gymnastics Tournament at Deep Run High School. Lambert’s Atlee squad placed second in the team competition, just one-tenth of a point behind new champion Mills Godwin, sending the Raiders to the State Group AAA Championships Feb. 15-16.
Patrick Henry’s Kristen Valasek repeated as Region All-Around champion during the Central Region Gymnastics Tournament at Deep Run High School.
“We had an amazing day,” Atlee assistant head coach Kendall Koehler said. “We had a great showing on beam, which kind of set the tone for the day.”
The balance beam is the rotation that shakes the Raider nerves more than most, so Koehler was pleased to do well, and have it first on their competition schedule. Amidst the glowing review, she noted the level of disappointment at coming so close to a team championship.
“It’s so hard when it’s that close to first, but I’m very, very proud of them,” Koehler exclaimed.
For about 30 minutes, it looked like the Raiders had tied for the team title with Godwin. The score after all judges’ ballots were received had Atlee and Godwin each at 139.425 points. There was consultation into the VHSL Rule Book as to whether a tie had to be broken for state qualification purposes. But a Godwin coach found something on a judge’s sheet with an anomaly and requested a second look, which is allowed. After review, it was shown that in one performance, an Eagle was credited with a tenth of a point for a specific maneuver performed, but it was not added into the final score at the bottom of the sheet. The retabulation gave Godwin 139.525 points and the final Central Region Title.
Thankfully, it did not cost the Atlee team a trip to states, as the top two teams qualify, as do the top four All-Around individual finishers as well as the top eight individual finishers in each of the four rotations. It was in the All-Around competition where Valasek and Lambert cleaned house.
Valasek, a junior, repeated as Region All-Around champion, scoring 37.925 points. She earned 9.4 on balance beam and uneven bars, 9.475 on vault and a meet-best 9.65 on her floor exercise. Valasek also grabbed the Colonial District title. Lambert finished at 36.9 points, earning 9.225 on balance beam, 9.050 on bars, 9.3 on vault and 9.325 on floor to sweep Capital District honors.
“I didn’t think I’d sweep. I thought it would be a close meet,” Valasek said.
Atlee’s Skylar Lambert will join her fellow Raiders at state-level competition following their second-place finish Saturday.
“We [Atlee] knew we had to hit coming in to today to have a chance, and we did, so it was a good day,” Lambert said, noting that their loss to Lee-Davis Jan. 16 in the county quad meet was motivation for the Raiders to redeem themselves while clinching a state berth. Lee-Davis finished second in the Capital District, fifth in the Central Region with 137.750 points, less than two points short of the Atlee mark. Patrick Henry placed third in the Colonial District, fourth in the Region, at 138.375.
The biggest surprise of the tournament was the performance of Patrick Henry freshman Keion Greenhow, who finished fourth in the All-Around to clinch a trip to states. Her score of 35.250 bested Lee-Davis’ Madison Godsey by .075 points.
“I just wanted to give 100 percent,” Greenhow said, admitting she hoped to clinch a state berth when the day began. “I knew I would have to try hard to make it. I wanted to win for the team.”
Others will make the trip to Clifton High School in Centreville, outside Manassas. In beam, Godsey of Lee-Davis qualified by finishing fourth with a 9.125. Atlee’s Derika Banks qualified individually on bars with a fifth place finish (8.725). Brooke Morris of Lee-Davis finished third on vault at 9.2 and Hanover’s Katelynne Gillis placed sixth at 8.95 to qualify, along with Godsey in eighth place (8.9). On floor exercise, Lee-Davis’ Kinsee Stonebreaker will end her gymnastics season just before softball practice begins thanks to finishing fourth at 9.25, joining Godsey, Banks, Lee-Davis teammate Becca Fields (9.0) and Atlee’s Hailey Hulser (9.3).
The fourth county school, Hanover, finished sixth out of 12 teams at 130.125, sending Gillis to state competition. Their team, though, epitomized the fun, professionalism, and camaraderie found at gymnastics meets, trying to use their underdog status to its fullest advantage.
“We all wanted to do our best, being the last meet of the season,” said Hawk gymnast Leah Kemler. “Coming in as the underdog motivates us even more. It gives us an extra push to work even harder.”
The Hawks only lose three to graduation and Kemler, a junior, looks forward to more success next season. With Valasek a junior and Greenhow a freshman, Patrick Henry is poised for the future, as is Atlee, as Lambert is just a sophomore.
But first things first, as the county spends the next week adding to routines and perfecting moves in hopes of capturing state championships.