Gymnastics: Balanced Braves have state title hopes

February 13, 2013 

At roughly 6:35 p.m. Friday, a Kamiakin gymnast will climb onto the balance beam at the Tacoma Dome.

She will then start her routine, trying to knock aside the nerves that come with competing at the state meet, and if all goes well, she will help launch what the Braves hope is a coronation to their tremendous season — a state title.

Kamiakin will have eight gymnasts competing in the state championships Friday, starting with the team competition at 6:35 p.m. They will start with the beam, move to the floor, then the vault and wrap up on the bars.

If all goes well, the Braves fully expect to bring home the second team title in school history.

“I think every year (the beam) is a make or break event, and the fact we are starting with it adds a little bit more pressure,” Kamiakin senior Michelle Fletcher said. “It is (so) notorious that if you are nervous, you might fall off. And on the first event we might be a bit more nervous.”

But the Braves have reason to be confident, no matter what event they are opening with.

“We’re just going to do our best and see what happens,” senior Brittany Lofton said. “There is a lot of pressure, but we just have to stay strong as a team.”

The team is loaded with experience, including four gymnasts who competed with the 2011 state title team — seniors Jessica Anderson, Lofton and Fletcher, and junior Danielle Brandon.

“This time we know what we are up against,” Brandon said. “Everyone has to be on top of their program.”

The Braves have certainly been excelling lately.

Last weekend at the regional championships they dominated the competition, defeating University High of Spokane by a whopping 6.5 points. A far cry from the eighth of a point they lost to U-High at regionals the season before.

“It was a good feeling,” Anderson said. “Going from not knowing if we could beat them to winning was a really good feeling. We have a little bit of confidence, but we don’t want to be overconfident.”

The competition is definitely increasing this weekend, as the Braves will go toe-to-toe with Enumclaw. The west side school finished second to Kamiakin in 2011 and then won the state team title in 2012. Kamiakin didn’t qualify as a team last season.

“Enumclaw has a pretty high score, and we haven’t scored that high yet,” Kamiakin coach Sarah Garrett said. “This is the best team I’ve had and this team has the capability of winning. There is no doubt in my mind. We have the room (to score as high as Enumclaw) without any errors.”

Even last week while cruising to the regional title, the Braves suffered falls in multiple events. So there is room for improvement.

“Early in the season we weren’t hitting our routines as much,” Fletcher said. “At regionals we hit more than we had been. We’ve just been more consistent in practice and we’ve been working on our ability to perform under pressure.”

The Braves’ state title in 2011 was the first for an Eastern Washington school since Shadle Park brought home the crown in 1979.

“We have a power pack bunch of girls,” Garrett said. “Nerves aside, we will win state.”

While most of the team’s focus is on the team title, the Braves also have three girls — Fletcher, Brandon or Kelsey Jaquish — who could make school history and win an all-around title. They’ve gone back and forth throughout the year winning all-arounds, and Fletcher won the crown last weekend at regionals.

“The key is to relax and not be too stressed out,” Garrett said. “I have four that have been here and done it, but I have four that haven’t. They need to stay calm.”

And that starts tomorrow evening. On the beam.

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