Surviving hard times
The Detroit Lakes gymnastics team has come a long way through what proved to be a grind of a regular season.
After surviving a rocky preseason, which almost resulted in the Lakers not even having a team, and a host of injuries through the regular season, DL maintained its composure through the bumpy ride and excelled when it counted most -- at the Section 8-1A meet.
The Lakers -- who had vaulted as high as No. 2 in the state rankings -- will be sending three gymnasts to the Class 1A state meet, which will be Thursday and Friday at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.
The trio of Laker gymnasts -- who include freshman Jessica Stelter, junior Kristi Hoppert and sophomore Amy Crawford -- qualified for the Class 1A state meet after the Section 8-1A competition was held Saturday in Park Rapids.
The young contingent of Laker gymnasts had an outstanding meet, posting a season team-high score of 144.425, which was second best to the No. 1 ranked team of Perham, which finished with a 148.5.
Stelter and Crawford each netted top four all-around scores to qualify them for the state meet.
Stelter finished with a 36.525 for third overall and Crawford marked a 36.050 for fourth (the top four finishers in each event go to state).
Hoppert also will make the trip to the state meet after she finished third on bars with a 9.3.
The Laker junior finished fourth in the state meet last year on bars with a 9.15, while each of Stelter and Crawford will be making their first appearance in state.
The Class 1A individual state meet will be held Friday, starting at 11 a.m. and running through to 2 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.
Perham will be vying for its sixth-consecutive state title Thursday, beginning at 11 a.m.
Fighting through turmoil
Frustration started early for the Laker team, which had no head coach leading up to the final week to the start of the 2008-09 season.
Jenny Whipple, a first-year math teacher at DLHS, stepped up -- along with assistant coach Cassie Hansana -- and the season was a go.
"It was extremely frustrating," Hoppert said of the distractions before the season started. "I thank the coaches for stepping up so we could have a team."
Then the injuries started, with starters Natalie Hoffert and Shayna Dugger missing significant time, forcing the team to perform with just four gymnasts.
"Every score counted and was important," said Crawford of the four-person meets the Lakers had to go with. "That was quite a lot of pressure and when we did get five girls back, we still had that mindset that every score counted."
That was a good primer for the Lakers leading up to the section meet, where they had to face five-time state champion Perham.
Frustrations built and words exchanged through some tumultuous times, but for every meet there was, the gymnasts gave full support to each other.
"We yelled at each other at times during practice and it was hard sometimes," Hoppert said. "But the day before the section, although we were all pretty crabby, we all pulled together."
That resulted in the season-high 144.425 score, which would have been good enough in the majority of other sections to go to state.
"I am extremely proud of it," Hoppert said of the 144 score. "We still had a lot of falls, too, so we know we could have been better."
Added Stelter: "I didn't think we were going to do this well. I think we overcame a lot."
One other impressive aspect was that the Lakers qualified not just one, but two, gymnasts in all-around.
With Perham consistently posting the top scores in the state, each of Stelter and Crawford earned state berths in all-around.
Both are first-time state entrants and both competed all-around on varsity for the first time.
"I was just hoping to go to state on vault and bars, but not all-around," Crawford said, who finished in the top four (state qualifying) in each event. "I didn't know I even had a shot at all-around until the last event, which was floor."
Her 9.1 on floor was enough to put her over the hump and in fourth overall with a 36.050 all-around score.
"The floor is my weakest event, so I added some new skills," Crawford said. "I just want to do the best I can at state and hopefully place somewhere good on vault."
Stelter's first meet set the tone for her entire season, after she won the all-around portion.
It was her first time as a varsity all-around gymnast and she progressed throughout the season as one of DL's main point producers.
"I was very nervous in that first meet, since it was the first year in all-around," Stelter said. "(The keys) was being strong and confident and not having a lot of mental blocks."
During the off season, Stelter worked on all four events four days a week, four hours a day -- but making state in all-around was unexpected.
"I would like to place on floor and vault," Stelter said of her state expectations.
For Hoppert, her goal is to improve on her fourth-place finish at state last year in bars.
So far, that is well within range.
Her 9.3 section score outdoes her 9.1 she tallied in state last year.
Hoppert's two toughest competitors at state will come from within the section, where Perham's Kelsi Vomacka (9.75) and Jenna Schmitz (9.5) each finished ahead of her.
But there will be other challenges, such as competing in the U of M's Sports Pavilion, which is the first year of the site after the state has been held inside the Roy Wilkins Arena for many years.
"It will be hard now, because I like to envision my routine and now that it's at the U of M, I don't know what it's like there," Hoppert said. "But I still would like to do better than I did last year at state."
Senior Courtney Einerson, who finished in sixth place in all-around at state last year, had a strong section meet, but was a hair off in qualifying in three divisions.
With the top four placers earning a berth in state, Einerson finished fifth in each of all-around, vault and bars.
Section 8-1A meet in Park Rapids, Saturday, Feb. 21.
Team results (*state qualifier): *Perham 148.5, Detroit Lakes 144.425, Fergus Falls 125.425, Park Rapids 124.9, Frazee 113.425.
DL event results (*state qualifier) -- All-around: *3. Jessica Stelter 36.525; *4. Amy Crawford 36.050; 5. Courtney Einerson 35.575...Vault: *2. Crawford 9.4; *3. Stelter 9.375; 5. Einerson 9.225; 7. Kristi Hoppert 9.15...Bars: *3. Hoppert 9.3; *4. Crawford 9.15; 5. Einerson 9.05; 7. Stelter 8.85; 9. Natalie Hoffert 8.7...Beam: 6. Stelter 8.825; 7. Shayna Dugger 8.7; 10. Crawford 8.4; 11. Hoffert 8.375; 12. Einerson 8.15...Floor: *4. Stelter 9.475; 6. Einerson 9.15; 7. Crawford 9.1; 10. Dugger 8.9; 14. Hoppert 7.975