Defending their title; Gymnasts open the season with 3 wins

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

One girl slipped off the bars. Another one slipped off the beam. The vault and floor routines were about as perfect as they could be on the first competition, but Southington gymnasts picked right back up where they finished in their Class L title defense.

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, the Lady Knights cruised past Conard with a 15-point cushion. Two days later, they swept past Newtown and Oxford by double digit margins.

In the first week of the season Southington might not be in postseason shape, but they have already shown themselves to be one of the state’s top contenders.

“For an opening day, I think we did really well,” said Lady Knight gymnastics coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell. “We had a few falls, but that’s expected for the first meet. I think there are just some opening meet jitters.”

With a pair of preseason injuries and the loss of a New England champion, Southington entered the week with a number of questions. Could they rise above the losses to their roster by injury or graduation? How would the veteran’s respond? How good is the influx of newcomers? Will the Knights be the ones to beat when the postseason comes around?

For now, O’Donnell is satisfied with the answers.

“I just wanted to see our lineups,” said the coach. “We have a lot more girls this year, so we wanted to see how they’d work together, who would do well under pressure, and who wouldn’t. It was really just a first meet, and I was trying to see where we’re at.”

Rookie sophomore Vicky Castillo led the way with an 8.8 on bars. Junior Lexi Rothstein executed a near perfect pike-tsukahara on vault to score a 9.25. Castillo (8.8) edged senior co-captain Kayla Nati (8.8) on beam. Junior Marilyn Sporbert (9.1) paced the Knights on a modified floor routine because of the gym’s facilities, and Southington gymnasts posted five of the top seven scores.

Southington scored 137.85 points over the four varsity events, and Conard (122.15) never threatened.

“I think it was a good starting spot for us, and we can only go up from here,” O’Donnell said. “Now we can go back and change things around a little bit. We’ll see what works and we’ll go right back at it again.”

The Knights were able to show a good mix of veterans and youth. Sporbert scored in all four events and led the way in the all-around competition with 34.95 out of 40 possible points. Freshman Castillo (34.8) scored in every event.

Nati (33.4) scored in three of the four events. Rothstein (33.25) scored on vault and floor. Freshman Taryn Meenan made her varsity debut with scores on vault (8.25), bars (8.3), and beam (8.2). Kayla Birming-ham and Jessie Kane didn’t score, but they helped set the opening standards in multiple events.

“I think we have more depth than we thought,” O’Donnell said. “We do have two girls out for injuries, but I still think that we would have had [the three rookies] in the lineup. They’re working really hard, and they’re very clean.”

Two days later, the Knights traveled to Oxford for a tri-team meet with Newtown and Oxford. Southington (138.95) improved their team score by more than a full point to capture two convincing wins. The Knights eclipsed their previous team scores in three of the four events but finished the meet on beam where they fell by almost a full point from their opening score.

Once again, Sporbert (9.2) and Rothstein (9.1) broke the 9.0 barrier on vault. Castillo scored a 9.0 on bars. Rothstein (9.0) reached that mark on the floor, but Southington was only able to post a trio of scores in the 8.0 range on beam.

Southington won easily against Newtown (125.65) and Oxford (76.55), but the meet showed some areas where the Knights need to focus.

“I’m still not satisfied yet,” said O’Donnell. “We posted a good score on the first three events, but I think we got a little tired on our last event. We had a few falls on beam, but as long as our scores keep going up it’s a good thing. It also means we have more room for improvement.”

Now comes Southington’s first true test. On Tuesday, they’ll return to West Hartford for a dual meet against Hall, and then they’ll open their home schedule at C.A.T.S. in Cheshire on Saturday against Glastonbury.

With an early 131.675 average, the Tomahawks are projected to be Southington’s top competition at the Class L championships, but neither team has approached the early scores posted by state open rivals Woodstock (146.05) or Hand (140.7).

Reaching that 140-point barrier is Southington’s next regular season challenge.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@southingtonobserver.com.

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