A very familiar face to the Detroit Lakes gymnastics team will be taking over head coaching duties next season pending school board approval.

Longtime assistant coach Leesa Lindgaard accepted the position and officially signed a contract Monday to replace Steve Zamzo.

Lindgaard took last season off after nine years coaching with the program helping lead the Lakers to six years of section dominance and five consecutive state championships.

“I needed some extra time to hang out with my family and that was perfect; we had a wonderful season,” she said.

Lindgaard and her husband Joe have been married eight years and opened CrossFit Detroit Lakes the same year as their nuptials. They had plenty to keep them busy without gymnastics with the business and raising four children.

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“It’s been like this for nine years,” she said. “Other people probably think we’re crazy because we have so much going on. We’re busy people and we like to stay busy and active. It just kind of fits.”

Joe has also played a pivotal role as an assistant with the gymnastics program over the decade of success.

“Joe and all my girls are so excited,” Leesa said. “They missed the season and missed the gymnastics girls. They’re already talking about how they’re Lakers and they’re going to be on the gymnastics team.”

The timing of Zamzo’s decision to give up the head coaching job fit right into the Lindgaard family dynamic.

“Zamzo gave me a heads-up that he was thinking of stepping down,” said Lindgaard. “I knew that I wanted that position and knew that I missed the girls. It was perfect timing.”

The year off was definitely a change for the Lindgaard family.

“It was bittersweet,” she said. “It was nice to have just my family time, but it was also sad missing the girls and not getting to hang out with them all the time. I wanted to be there every single day but I knew I took the season off for a reason. I needed to keep that in mind and limit my time in the gym.”

Lindgaard made a few cameos during the season covering for Zamzo while he was away for wrestling parent’s night during a schedule conflict between the two teams.

However, her absence was palpable after being such a key component to postseason success.

Detroit Lakes missed the state tournament for the first time since 2013 in a season where there was more missing than just the Lindgaards.

Injuries played a big role on this season’s team from Ellie Hultin out for the year with a knee injury, mid-season injuries to Jerzie Horner and Gabby Whitworth, all the way to missing Kennedy Hegg for multiple seasons after she was part of the early state teams.

With all the success of graduating senior Jackson Hegg, the thought of Detroit Lakes with both Hegg sisters at full power for five years is astonishing and will remain one of the great unknowns in program history.

Leesa has a lengthy history with all the gymnasts. As a Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics coach also, she has built lifelong relationships with her gymnasts, especially compared to most varsity coaches. She’s been a part of the team’s training from the beginning.

“A lot of those girls, I’ve seen them since they were five,” she said. “It’s always hard to step away because you miss those girls; you spent so many years and hours with them.”

Zamzo was always quick to credit Leesa as being the cornerstone of Laker success, having the technical knowledge to push the girls to state record scoring levels.

“Zamzo did a great job and didn’t give himself all the credit he deserved,” she said. “He was great at keeping the team together. Yes, I knew the gymnastics background and I was good at putting that stuff together, but he has to give himself credit too. He was the good guy when I was the bad guy.”

Leesa Lindgaard gives her team an intense pre-meet speech at the 2017 Section 8A championships at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham. Robert Williams / Tribune
Leesa Lindgaard gives her team an intense pre-meet speech at the 2017 Section 8A championships at Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham. Robert Williams / Tribune

Lindgaard is no-nonsense when it comes to her coaching style. Her pre-meet speeches at section and state meets can be felt by seeing the intensity on the faces of the gymnasts listening to her.

Her return will be met with hope and some relief seeing a face in the gym that has been the embodiment of what has made the team so good for so long.

The timing of that return is up in the air like so many things.

“These times are so goofy because of what’s going on in the world right now,” Lindgaard said. “We don’t know if they’re going to get their training in the offseason, which we hope they do.”

Confidence in her team remains very high as the Lakers look to bounce back to the top of Section 8A.

“We have such a strong, good team that they will be just fine," she said. “I 100 percent believe in them and we’ll be back where we’ve always been.”

Perham advanced to state in a close three-team race this year defeating Melrose Area and the Lakers in the Dutchmen’s first year in the section. Those three teams are synonymous with Class A state championships.

Perham won eight straight state titles from 2004-11. Detroit Lakes held the crown from 2015-19. In between those two runs, Melrose Area had two titles in 2012 and 2014 with New Prague taking gold in 2013. New Prague has since moved to Class AA.

Competing in 8A is as big of a challenge as the state meet.

“In a sense it sucks being in that section because there are three of the best teams in the state, but it’s also fun because it makes you work hard and keeps us on our toes,” she said.

Lindgaard was a 2007 Detroit Lakes graduate and competed for the Lakers in gymnastics before missing her junior and senior season due to back surgery. She graduated from St. Cloud State University with an elementary education degree.