Editor’s Note: This is part one of two detailing seven days in Detroit Lakes athletics that produced unique state champions on back-to-back weekends. Part two will be published Wednesday, March 21.

Detroit Lakes gymnasts captured a fourth consecutive state championship in late February, a feat unmatched by any other team in school history. However, on the ride home from Minneapolis, it wasn’t the only thing on their minds.

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“They were excited, but they wanted their phones back the most,” said head coach Steve Zamzo.

Losing technology for the length of the state meet weekend is part of the reason this team is successful. Zamzo and the staff promote interpersonal communication as a means for team building, even after winning the title.

“That didn’t happen until we got back,” said Zamzo. “They got to sit and visit with each other and be in the moment and enjoy it. Hopefully, it was a time when they were able to reflect on what they accomplished. How cool it is that you finished the season winning? To sit back and say we’re better than all these other teams and we’ve been better four times in a row.”

Talk around Maturi Pavilion at state was the meet this year was definitely a battle for second place. However, for Zamzo and the team, there is always room to improve.

“We should have been a 151; we had a tenth deduction,” he said. “It was by far not one of our best performances.”

That performance of 150.925, however, was better than the best teams in the state, including outscoring the Class AA champions Stillwater (150.25).

Back on the bus to town, the ride home ramped up near the end just like the team’s season.

The entire team with family and friends at the Section 8A championships in Perham.
The entire team with family and friends at the Section 8A championships in Perham.

“Once we started getting into town; we got to Frazee and knew we were getting escorted in, they got more lively,” said Zamzo.

The girls headed to a welcome party at the Minnesota Flyers gym escorted by the sirens of local first responders. Something that could be old hat after four in a row, but not to this team.

“They weren’t complacent; they were as excited as they have been the other times,” said Zamzo. “It wasn’t any different than any of the other three.”

What makes this program special at Detroit Lakes is more than just winning. It’s the way these girls do it and interact with other teams.

“Before I got here there were a lot of individuals doing gymnastics and I didn’t like the way that looked,” Zamzo said. “We make sure everybody does everything together and it feels a lot better when you’re cheering for one another than when you’re off in your own world. We need one another to be successful, just like in life.”

Laker gymnastics has been the epitome of success, along with the girls golf program, in dominating their sport and doing so with class.

“That’s maybe the most prideful thing I have,” said Zamzo. “The championships, great. I don’t get paid anything different. My life is exactly the same as it has been other than I have an asterisk by my name that says I’ve done that. The thing that makes me the most proud is when other coaches and parents come up to me and congratulate us, but also thank you for being nice to our team or our kid. They’ve noticed how our kids act and behave, that’s what I take the most pride in. The skills, they work very hard at their craft. They deserve all that credit. Leesa (Lindgaard), Annette (Jernberg), and Brianna (Tschida), they should get all the credit as far as getting those kids ready to compete. They’re always looking and picking apart those little things and making them good. They do a great job with those kids.”

The team aspect blossoms to the coaching staff as well as each member excels at their respective duties.

Lindgaard can be stern, but she gets the best out of her gymnasts.

“It’s her way, but she does it in a loving way,” Zamzo said. “She’s very particular and the girls know that. Not everybody can handle that type of thing.”

Three seniors who have depart the squad in Katrina Okeson, Alexis Ostlie and team leader Emma Disse.

“Emma will be very difficult to replace,” said Zamzo. “She’s been a solid competitor, gritty and works her tail off. I think some of the younger girls will step up but they won’t have the skills or experience.”

Disse competed at state at less than 100 percent but like the rest of the Lakers she gave more than that.

“She’s one of the best on floor, beam and vault if she can do it,” said Zamzo. “Being sick and not performing right away, I think that kind of affected her a bit. I don’t think anybody would have gone back and said I wish I would have done my event harder because I think they did everything they could at that time.”

Next season, Zamzo has the luxury of what will be a big senior class loaded with experience. There is also the usual influx of youngsters who did not go out for the varsity team instead concentrating on USAG level gymnastics at a young age.

Three of those seniors-to-be, Justine Lawrence, Peyton Jernberg and Emily Smith, took that route to the team.

“They had a goal they wanted to achieve before they came out and I think, too, most of their friends being on the team drove that too,” said Zamzo. “As you get older, you want to be more social.”

Winning state championships certainly helps, as well. There is plenty to believe in when it comes to pursuing a fifth state title. To accomplish that, Zamzo encourages his girls to become well-rounded athletes, not just full-time gymnasts.

“You’ve got a short burst of time to perform it but you have the nine other months to work on it,” he said. “That’s why we like those three-sport athletes. They’re competing and they’re also working on a skill to help them in whatever sport they’re in and it’s a different movement that’s not hurting them. You still have to practice those skills to help you excel in your sport.”

Those other teams are lucky to have one of these girls on the squad.