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Lawrence qualifies for Western National meet

Justine Lawrence and Sith Hansana have an extended Flyers gymnastics season after Lawrence qualified for the Western National meet in California May 5-7. Brian Wierima/Tribune

Detroit Lakes’ Justine Lawrence is learning much as just a sixth grader.

But during the United States Gymnastics Association Regional meet in St. Charles, Mo., earlier this month, she learned one of life’s most valuable lessons — never give up.

It was that life lesson which enabled Lawrence to become just the second Minnesota Flyer ever to qualify for the Western National Gymnastics Championships, which will be held in Roseville, Calif., May 3-5.

Lawrence had to persevere through the Regional meet, though, after falling off the beam, which was her first event of the day.

She finished with an 8.3 on beam.

“The top 12 get to go to Nationals out of her age group, so after she fell off beam, I told her she has some work to do in her final three events,” said MFG head trainer and coach Sith Hansana. “She just said, ‘Yup’.”

Not many words were needed as Lawrence climbed back into the race by scoring an 8.875 on floor.

“I was just hoping to do my best and still make Nationals,” Lawrence said.

Next up was vault, where she nailed her routine and layout and finished with an 8.75, thus bringing up her last, but strongest event, the bars.

“We knew she needed to have a high score on bars to qualify,” Hansana said.

That’s exactly what Lawrence did, as she scored over an 8.5 to finish 11th overall in all-around and earn a berth into the Westerns National Meet, which Lawrence will be competing against 60-plus of the best gymnasts in the western half of the United States.

Lawrence becomes the second MFG gymnast to qualify for Nationals — the first being Amy Crawford, who was a junior in high school when she accomplished the feat.

“Justine beat out some of the best gymnasts from seven states in the Regional, so she is definitely very deserving,” Hansana said. “It’s great for the program, too, but my reward is just seeing Justine go to Nationals. I guide our gymnasts, but they do all the hard work through the year and it’s great to see her succeed.”

Lawrence will be using her Nationals debut as a learning experience, something to enjoy. But being just a sixth grader, she will have plenty of opportunities to progress up the ladder of success in the gymnastics world.

“I don’t feel as much pressure in Nationals, because it’s exciting just to go,” Lawrence said. “I will go for the experience and have fun with it.”

Hansana has been the architect in building a very progressive gymnastics program for the Minnesota Flyers over the last few years.

It has shown through the DL Laker high school team, which has crowned two recent past state champions in Jess Stelter and Crawford, who broke through to Nationals in the USGA portion her junior season.

“The enrollment has been up for us the last few years and we have stuck with the same philosophy that helped Amy climb to Nationals,” Hansana said. “The standards are being set higher and higher here.”

It’s standards like these which Lawrence is meeting, with plenty of hard work.

The Flyers’ competitive season started in January, but the majority of the competitive gymnasts work throughout the entire year.

So it’s not a fluke Lawrence is making some more Flyer history, but it’s also opening the door for other young gymnasts from the club to join her on those heights.

“Next year, I’d like to see two or three of our girls in Nationals and it’s very possible,” Hansana said. “The last few years, our younger gymnasts wanted to be like Amy.

“Now, hopefully, they want to be like Justine.”

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.