BY Rob Witham
A new system, new titles, and new opponents.
But at the first ever “Richmond District” Gymnastics Championship Friday at Hanover High, teams in Classes 1 through 4 found out quickly what has been a hard, fast rule in recent years: you must contend with Sierra Baxter.
Baxter, a senior at Patrick Henry, and no stranger to the top of the podium during her career in the postseason, will see the word “District” replace the word “Conference” on her latest piece of hardware, taking the Individual All-Around title Friday, victorious on floor exercise and balance beam while taking second place on bars to finish with 35.6 points. Ashley Gill and Sophie Weaver, teammates at Broadway High School in Rockingham County, finished second, while Hanover’s Holly Johnson placed fourth with 33.875 points, taking first overall on bars over Baxter with a score of 9.075.
In team competition, it was Hanover, not Patrick Henry, compiling enough points to advance to the Region level, finishing second overall with 132.75 points. Broadway won the team title with 135.15 points, while Patrick Henry placed third with 130.95.
It was a satisfying conclusion to a frantic evening for host coach Caitlin Berry, making sure the tournament ran smoothly with one eye, and having laser focus on her competitors with the other. On top of that, the Hawks had seen Patrick Henry in season competition, but none of the other teams competing.
“It’s tricky planning for a meet that you’re hosting when four teams you’ve never heard of nor know anything about their gymnasts and their overall meet scores,” Berry explained. “I was asked many times during practices by my girls about how good the other teams were, and all I could simply tell them was to focus on their own routines.”
While Johnson earned Hanover’s top scores on bars and vault (8.7), Kaley Wood earned an 8.95 on floor exercise to lead the Hawks, while Sophie Vota earned the best score on beam with an 8.375. Madison Klump earned 8.55 scores on both bars and vault, while Kameron Stanley notched an 8.3 on floor.
Joined by Avery Herndon, Haley Bazala, Carly Hollins, Lauren Bryant and Caitlin Szalay, it took a total team effort for Hanover to keep pace with Broadway and seize the second and final team ticket to the Region Tournament, an achievement which brought great satisfaction to the team, and their leader.
“All six on each event worked so hard during the season to put out their best, and what was possibly their last routine,” Berry noted. “This team has worked extremely hard this year, and it has truly paid off with this meet, advancing to regionals at Woodgrove. I had girls place in the top six in all events with some of their highest scores of the season!”
A team effort helped Baxter and the Patriots try to grab a top two spot, falling just short. Madison Spence scored an 8.375 on floor, and a team-best 8.45 on vault. Lily Voekler earned an 8.375 on vault and a 7.9 on floor exercise. Haley Rutherford notched an 8.0 on beam, while Ambra Eddleton scored 8.05 on bars.
The Hawks, and Baxter advance to the Region Championship scheduled for Friday at Woodgrove High School in Purcellville, located in Loudoun County.
Meanwhile, at the Region 5B Gymnastics Championship Saturday at Deep Run High School in Western Henrico County, Lee-Davis fell just short of qualifying for the Class 5 State Championship in team competition, finishing third overall with 136.1 points, less than a point behind host Deep Run, who was second at 136.975. Douglas Freeman ran away with region title, scoring 142.65 points.
Kameryn Shears of Douglas Freeman won the Individual All-Around title with 36.95 points, followed by Kindred Jones of Deep Run (36.55). Britney Blowers of Lee-Davis took third overall with 36.175 points, while Elizabeth Bosley of Atlee placed fifth at 35.65. The Raiders, as a team, placed fourth overall with 133.25 points.
Blowers will compete in the floor exercise, vault and beam at the state finals, finishing tied for second with teammate Brianna Cappelli on floor (9.27), third on vault (9.125) and fourth on beam (8.774). Cappelli also advances to state competition with the above score.
Bosley will represent Raider Nation at States on bars and vault. Competing this year after missing 2016-17 with an injury, Bosley placed fourth overall on bars at 9.075 and second on vault with a score of 9.2.
The Class 5 State Gymnastics Championship will be held February 16 and 17 at Heritage High School in Leesburg. Team competitions will be held Friday, with individual championships decided on Saturday.