By John Goralski
Lexi Rothstein shrugged off her typical handspring and corkscrew twist off the vault to embrace a more difficult Tsukahara tuck. Marilyn Sporbert switched her dismount on the beam to squeeze out another tenth of a point from the judges, and Erin Malone continued to evolve her routines with tougher skills on bars and an electrified pass on the floor.
Most teams might have been content to perfect their well-rehearsed routines at the state open championships, especially after a series of tumbles nearly cost them a Class L title just six days early. The Southington girls pulled out all the stops.
The singular slap from Rothstein’s perfect landing echoed through the New Milford gym, and Coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell didn’t try to stifle her wide grin.
“We’ve been working it in the gym, and we decided that this was the day that we were going to do it,” said the coach. “It was the time because this could have been our last meet. We had to go in with the mindset that this is it. We had to put in all our stuff.”
On Friday, March 1, the Lady Knights entered the final state competition as the third seeded team in a four-way competition. The state open is a chance for individuals to shine, but the Lady Knights had one goal in mind—return to the New England competition as a team for the first time since 2010.
“I think they handled it fairly well,” said O’Donnell. “It’s the first time in a while that we’ve been a team at the state opens, and it’s a little different pressure meet. I think that, considering the circumstances, we did pretty well. Overall, we had a very consistent meet. We had a few falls here or there, but it was nothing major.”
It wasn’t the start that O’Donnell envisioned when Southington’s senior Erin Malone skidded across the floor on a mat during her first pass on the floor and her feet landed almost two feet out of bounds. Malone shrugged it off with a graceful leap onto the mat and still managed to score in the top 10 in the event with a 9.125.
“She didn’t actually get a fall because her hands never touched the mat, but she did stumble and went out of bounds,” said O’Donnell. “It was a deduction, but she has such a high start value that she was still able to get a good score.”
Despite the hiccup, Malone still managed to lead the Knights in all four events. She won the bars competition (9.55) and placed third on vault (9.4) and sixth on beam (9.125). When the dust settled on the competition, Malone had scored 37.2 out of 40 possible points in the all-around competition to secure Southington’s first state open individual title since 2008.
“She’s so clean,” O’Donnell said. “She had a wonderful day with just a few little bobbles here and there. She had a really nice bar set. She won the bars and won the all-around. She had a good day going for her, and she deserved it.”
O’Donnell wasn’t alone. Southington claimed five of the top 25 scores in the all-around competition. Sporbert (34.325) edged Kayla Nati (34.2) for 13th place. Rothstein (33.725) finished in the top 20, and Lindsey Socquet (32.575) averaged over 8.1 points in all four events.
“The whole team was consistent,” said the coach. “Compare it to last week when we had a bunch of falls all over the place. This week, we only had a handful. I think the girls are getting more consistent. They’re putting in harder skills, and that’s what’s helping our all-around scores.”
Even though she didn’t compete in all four events, Sarah Leahy boosted the Knights with scores on vault (8.75) and beam (8.45). Sporbert scored for the Knights on vault (9.225), beam (8.6), and floor (8.65). Nati scored on bars (8.55), beam (8.7), and floor (8.55). Rothstein scored on vault (8.65) and bars (8.35), while Socquet scored on bars (8.1) and floor (8.575).
Woodstock Academy held on to their top seed in the team competition (146.025), but Southington (140.35) eclipsed Glastonbury (137.55) and Daniel Hand (136.1) for second place.
“I think that, for us, it’s a really great accomplishment,” said O’Donnell. “We came so far as a team. This is my first year, and a lot of the girls haven’t done this before. I told them I was proud of them. Our girls were on fire.”
As the top two finishers, Woodstock and Southington will advance to the New England team competition on Saturday, March 9 at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, Mass. Once again, Southington gymnasts will set their sights on a New England title.
Can they raise the bar again? Can Malone regain Southington’s throne atop the regional competition? Can the Knights win as a team? O’Donnell said that they’d try.
“We just want to score a little bit higher. We just want to hit better than we did this time, and wherever the cards fall that’s where we’ll be,” she said. “It’s the best of the best, so you have to hit. I always say that we have to hit, but this is the meet that you really have to.”
Competition is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.
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