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Record-breaking Lakers advance to defend state title

In the middle of this happy Laker mob is Lexi Yliniemi being hugged by her teammates after recording a 9.9 gold score on vault during the Lakers' smooth ride to a fifth straight Section 8A team championship Saturday in Perham. Robert Williams / Tribune1 / 4
Justine Lawrence qualified individually in three events placing second on bars fifth on vault and sixth on beam. Robert Williams / Tribune 2 / 4
Cora Okeson, the 2016 state all-around silver medalist, will compete in two state individual events after placing third on floor and fourth on bars. Robert Williams / Tribune 3 / 4
Peyton Jernberg earned a state bid on beam with a runner-up score of 9.45. Robert Williams / Tribune4 / 4

All the nerves in getting to the state championship were quelled early at the Section 8A meet as Detroit Lakes broke the team scoring record and set a new school record in capturing their fifth consecutive section championship Saturday afternoon at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham.

“It was a good day,” said senior Emma Disse. “We still have more left though. This meet is way more stressful than state. Now it’s just fun and we’re going to have a great time.”

For a team that is accustomed to breaking records, each new mark still comes as a surprise.


“New school record, that’s crazy,” Jackson Hegg said.

The Lakers scored 152.375 breaking 37 points on each apparatus: Beam 37.6, Floor 38.2, Vault 38.775, and Bars 37.8.

This team, however, is never satisfied thanks to a coaching staff that continually pushes them to be better. They’re the best team in Minnesota. The challenge continually comes from within.

“There’s definitely room to grow,” Disse said. “It can always be better.”

Laker gymnasts captured gold on three of four events and it would be tough to get better than Lexi Yliniemi’s 9.9 to place first on vault. Yliniemi has thrived in big meets, including state, and posted the top score of the section championships.

“Having so many people watch and cheer that just makes your adrenaline go crazy,” she said “We do really well under pressure. I’m really happy.”


It was more exciting for her teammates, who mobbed Yliniemi as she came back from presenting to the judges.

“Today we had happy tears, like when Lexi got her 9.9,” said Disse. “That was the most incredible thing in my career. I can’t believe it. Coolest thing ever.”

Disse, the 2016 floor exercise state champion, posted a 9.75 to win on the section floor.

The Lakers opened on balance beam and Jackson Hegg scored 9.5 to claim victory.

“I was a little nervous coming in but it was better than I expected,” said Hegg.

“No matter how good you do throughout the season, this is the meet that counts. It’s pretty exciting.”

All three gold medal Lakers won the same event at sections last season.

There were plenty of nerves to go around as gymnasts competed individually under new qualifying standards. The top three all-around winners qualify for state in all events. The top three section finishers in each event, aside from those three gymnasts, also qualify.

Hegg scored 38.125 to finish with all-around silver. Disse took third with a score of 37.9. Perham freshman Jada Olsen was the all-around champion with a 38.6.

“It’s definitely more stressful here because I know there are a lot of good girls and any one of them could beat me out,” Olsen said.


Perham’s top gymnast was one and done with a 9.8 on vault finishing only behind Yliniemi. Olsen won on bars (9.725), was second on floor (9.7) and fifth on beam (9.375).

Despite being so young, Olsen is primed for a state return after using a gold medal performance on bars to capture the bronze medal in the state all-around last season.

“Going is definitely a privilege and I hope to do even better there,” she said.

The Lakers’ Justine Lawrence qualified individually in three events placing second on bars (9.65), fifth on vault (9.575) and sixth on beam (9.225).

Cora Okeson, the 2016 state all-around silver medalist, will compete in two events after placing third on floor (9.575), and fourth on bars (9.5).

Yliniemi scored a qualifying 9.4 for sixth on floor to go with her vault win.


Peyton Jernberg earned a state bid on beam with a runner-up score of 9.45 behind Hegg’s win.

Four of the six Section 8A vault performers at state will be Lakers, along with Perham’s Olsen and Sydney Bahls.

Four DL gymnasts will represent on floor with Olsen and Fergus Falls’ Camryn Appert.

Another Otter, Mayson Jensen, joins Olsen and four Lakers on beam.

Perham’s Dena Fischer joins Olsen and four Lakers on bars.

Day two at state presents a chance for section opponents to be on the same team, relatively, as they perform together in a group. For Olsen, her thought process is in line with the Laker gymnasts on how to succeed at state.

“Calm down, you know what you’re doing,” she said. “Being calm, in general, it’s very tough to do because you’ve got the adrenaline and you just have to know how to use it to your advantage.”

Olsen and Perham placed second in the section team competition scoring 145.875; Alexandria took the bronze with 137.625.

For DL, the chase for a fourth straight state championship is now front and center with team competition scheduled for Friday, Feb. 23 at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Start time is 11 a.m. A Laker victory will put the program halfway to the all-time consecutive state team record of eight straight victories (Perham 2004-2011).

For Disse and fellow seniors Alexis Ostlie and Katrina Okeson, it’s also about staying focused, even with their high school gymnastic careers nearing the end.

“Next week is all about consistency and doing what we do and doing it good,” said Disse. “It’s been a great ride.”

The top seven state-ranked teams advanced in their respective section finals. Waconia, from Section 2A, is the lowest ranked team at No. 11. Willmar, the No. 2-ranked team out of Section 6A, dethroned Melrose for the first time since 2007. The Dutchmen had made 10 straight state team appearances, including state championships in 2012 and 2014.

Advance tickets for the state meet are available at the Detroit Lakes high school office until Thursday, Feb. 22. Ticket prices are $12/adult and $8/student.

Section champions:

(Section, Team, Final state ranking)

1A-Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa, No. 6

2A-Waconia, No. 11

3A-Worthington, No. 7

4A-Mahtomedi, No. 4

5A-Watertown Mayer/Mound Westonka, No. 5

6A-Willmar, No. 3

7A-Sartell-St. Stephen, No. 2

8A-Detroit Lakes, No. 1

Section 8A Gymnastics Championships

Team scores: 1. 152.375 Detroit Lakes, 2. 145.875 Perham, 3. 137.625 Alexandria, 4. 136.5 Fergus Falls, 5. 127.275 LPGE-B, 6. 122.525 Park Rapids Area, 7. 118.525 Morris Area, 8. 118.3 Little Falls.

Detroit Lakes event scores: Beam 37.6, Floor 38.2, Vault 38.775, Bars 37.8.

Individual results (*State qualifier)


*Champion Lexi Yliniemi, DL 9.9

*2. Jada Olsen, PER 9.8

*3. Emma Disse, DL 9.7

*4. Jackson Hegg, DL 9.6

*5. Justine Lawrence, DL 9.575

*6. Sydney Bahls, PER 9.5

7. Cora Okeson, DL 9.5


*Champion Emma Disse, DL 9.75

*2. Jada Olsen, PER 9.7

*3. Cora Okeson, DL 9.575

*4. Jackson Hegg, DL 9.475

*5. Camryn Appert, FF 9.45

*6. Alexis Yliniemi, DL 9.4

Ellie Hultin, DL 9.050


*Champion Jackson Hegg, DL 9.5

*2. Peyton Jernberg, DL 9.45

*3. Mayson Jensen, FF 9.425

*4. Emma Disse, DL 9.425

*5. Jada Olsen, PER 9.375

*6 Justine Lawrence, DL 9.225

T10. Cora Okeson, DL 8.9


*Champion Jada Olsen, PER 9.725

*2. Justine Lawrence, DL 9.65

*3. Jackson Hegg, DL 9.55

*4. Cora Okeson, DL 9.5

*5. Dena Fischer, PER 9.4

6. Ellie Hultin, DL 9.1

*7. Emma Disse, DL 9.025


*Champion Jada Olsen, PER 38.6

*2. Jackson Hegg, DL 38.125

*3. Emma Disse, DL 37.9

4. Cora Okeson, DL 37.475

5. Sydney Bahls, PER 36.1

6. Joslyn Kent, ALEX 36.025

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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