Hanford's Lasater is flying solo

January 31, 2013 

Kayla Lasater tends not to let too much get her down.

If she falls in practice or during a gymnastics meet, the Hanford sophomore is good at brushing it off.

“Some girls get upset and punch the beam, but she laughs,” Kamiakin assistant coach Shannon Wills said.

There’s no reason for Lasater not to smile. She’s happy to still be able to compete for her school.

Last spring, the Richland School Board decided to stop offering gymnastics at Richland and Hanford high schools, but existing gymnasts were allowed to continue as part of a co-op agreement with Kamiakin. They would practice with the Braves but still be scored for Richland or Hanford during meets.

Richland’s Carly Garland and Hanford’s Devin Ramsay did not return, so Lasater is the only gymnast representing a Richland school.

“A lot of girls wanted to compete but found out they couldn’t because they grandfathered girls in,” Lasater said. “They were really sad. Hopefully maybe they’ll get to do it sometime.”

No one can predict what will happen down the road, but Lasater is making the most of the opportunity she has been given. She will compete in tonight’s district meet at Garland’s Gymnastics in Kennewick.

As a freshman, Lasater competed in the all-around at state and finished seventh on the bars. She feels she could do better this season after spending time with the Braves, who won the team title in 2011.

“It’s been a lot of fun actually,” Lasater said. “I really like practicing there because I’m the only girl for Hanford. They’re always there supporting me, and they’re really nice. It’s a good experience. Nothing bad has come out of it.”

Former Hanford/Richland head coach Brett Garland has become an assistant at Kamiakin, and he coaches Lasater and several Braves at Garland’s Gymnastics.

“In gymnastics, you can try to make your rival in the media, but most gymnasts have known each other for four years,” said Garland, a former state all-around champion at Richland. “A lot of them are at the same gym and compete for different high schools. They’re like one happy family.”

Kamiakin senior Jessica Anderson enjoys having Lasater around because of her positive attitude and says the Braves want their adopted teammate to feel at home.

“We make sure that she feels a part of everything that we do,” Anderson said. “When we have team activities or snack bags, we make sure that she has one and that she just feels included.

“Even though she wears a different (leotard) and comes from a different school, she’s still a part of our team because she’s training just as hard as we are to go to state.”

In Mid-Columbia Conference meets, Lasater has had top-five finishes in all four events. But being the only gymnast from her school, she says she has felt pressure to succeed.

“Sometimes I don’t, but I’ve thought about it,” she said. “ ‘I’m representing Hanford, so I better try my best.’ ”

Anderson doesn’t envy Lasater’s position.

“With a team, if you fall in one event, your team’s there to pick you back up, but she doesn’t have anyone to make up the skills for her,” Anderson said.

Garland says the Richland schools’ gymnastics programs suffered from low turnout, particularly after he moved practice to his Kennewick gym because of space issues at each school, but the Kamiakin and Southridge teams attract solid numbers. The Braves have eight gymnasts this season, and the Suns have had about 20 girls.

However, coaches and gymnasts at both schools say there is a strong chance that the Kennewick schools will stop offering gymnastics after the 2013-14 season — Lasater’s junior year. Richland, Hanford and Connell added bowling this winter, and each team drew 15-20 girls.

“I’m a senior, so it won’t affect me, but it will affect the girls who are coming up behind us because they want to do gym here, too,” Anderson said. “But knowing that it’s only going to go for maybe one more year — if we’re lucky even — it makes it hard for them to want to do it. If the school’s willing to cut it, it makes it hard to be passionate about it.”

No matter how long her partnership with the Braves lasts, Lasater is glad to be with them.

“They’re always there supporting me. They’re cheering me,” Lasater said. “It feels like I can have a team when I don’t.”

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