Gymnasts either stick it or they don’t during their routines in the postseason.
One misstep on the balance beam, one slipped grip on the uneven bars or one over-rotated tumble on the floor exercise, and that’s it for the season in that event. It’s not like baseball where players get two more strikes after a missed swing.
So for elite gymnasts to advance to the state competition in a certain event one season and not the next comes as no surprise to the young ladies who practice their routines over and over and over again in preparation for that moment that it really matters.
“I’m really excited, because last year I only made it on bars, and this year I made it on everything but bars,” Kenston junior Sammi Nero said about advancing to the big dance. “So I’m glad I get to compete in three events instead of one this year.”
During Saturday’s Northeast District meet at West Geauga High School, Nero, Solon senior Olivia Bell and West Geauga sophomore Maddie Prosek were able to punch their state tickets with top-16 finishes among the best gymnasts in Ohio, including five of the top six teams from last season’s state competition.
Nero finished fifth on the vault with a 9.475, sixth on the floor with a 9.225 and ninth on the beam with an 8.950.
Last season, Nero finished third on the bars with a 9.25 at districts, but there were no second chances when she had an off routine at sectionals two weeks prior with less than a 7.0. That’s why gymnastics is just as punishing as it is rewarding, she said.
“Yeah, I screwed up pretty bad at sectionals, but it’s OK, because I made up for it in the other three events,” she said. “I was able to really improve my vault this year, because I’ve been focusing a lot of practice and repetition in that event, which has given me the confidence I needed.”
Vault is the one event in gymnastics where athletes actually do get a second chance, as they get two attempts per competition.
During the postseason, Nero has done a Yurchenko tuck on her first attempt, in case she doesn’t stick a more difficult Yurchenko layout on her second attempt, she said.
“I realized that I have to get a layout to get a higher score, so I pushed myself into doing more and more every day at practice and giving it my all when I go to compete it,” she said. “But I just like to get myself ready with a tuck before I do that layout, because I don’t have that pressure of not having a score on the board.”
On the floor, Nero upped her 9.0 from sectionals to a 9.225 at districts, while West Geauga’s Prosek grabbed the 16th and final spot out of the district with a 9.0 for her first state berth.
And on the beam, Nero scored an 8.95 at both meets.
“I thought my beam at districts was the best that I competed all year,” she said. “I was kind of disappointed in the score, because I thought I would break a 9.0 finally, but I didn’t. I stuck my dismount and everything. I mean, I had a couple bobbles, but I finished my routine strong.”
Fortunate for Nero, she’ll get another go at noon on Saturday at Hilliard Bradley High School, just outside of Columbus.
Solon’s Bell, meanwhile, will be making her fourth trip to the big show, as she captured sixth on the bars with a 9.1 at districts.
While Bell competed in the state all-around competition the last two seasons, this Saturday will be her first time to perform on the bars in the individual competition.
Coming off a broken toe and then suffering a severe ankle injury, Bell hasn’t had the skill set or the start values that she did a year ago.
“The doctor said I shouldn’t be competing, but that’s not me,” she said. “Bars is the first event I was able to come back on and excel at quicker. So that’s why this year I’m going to states on bars, which is weird. It used to be my worst event. So coming this far in an event that I thought I would never make states on is a surprise, a good surprise.”
Bell said she didn’t get mentally right until senior night midway through the season.
“At first it was very difficult, and I definitely needed my teammates to push me through that struggle,” she said. “But later I had to realize that it was a different mindset that I needed to start with. I started thinking differently and realizing that, although I may not have the skill set or the start values that I did the year before, that, as long as I was clean, as long as I showed off everything with no regrets, it was just as satisfying.”
Bell captured the essence of that mindset from sectionals to districts for a tighter, cleaner and more precise routine to improve her score by 0.2 point, she said.
While Bell was the only Lady Comet to compete as an individual at districts, Solon was represented in the team competition and finished sixth with a 136.5 scorecard. The five teams that beat Solon have a chance to finish in the same order at the state competition.
“That was amazing to compete with my team one last time,” Bell said. “Districts was one of our better meets this year, and to have every single teammate pulling through and competing to the best of their ability just made it so much more fun for me and the other seniors to have a unified team like that. We hit it hard. It was amazing.”
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