RHAM tough; Gymnasts break the 140 barrier

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

Marilyn Sporbert twisted and turned through the air for a 9.25 on vault just moments after Kayla Nati secured a 9.1. Nati led the Knights on bars (8.75). Lexi Rothstein led a string of dancers across the beam (8.85), and the trio each posted nine-point-something scores on the floor.

On Monday, Jan. 20, the Lady Knights gymnasts were never threatened on the scoreboard, but that isn’t the challenge when you’re gearing up for a run at another state title. The competition has to come from within.

“I think we’re in a good spot. We’re still having a few falls here and there, but I think they’re really stepping up,” said Lady Knight coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell. “We’re still pushing in new skills, and that’s what I like about this team. They’re not afraid to try new stuff.”

Last week, the Knights took another step toward their postseason goals with a pair of dual meet victories. On Monday, Southington beat RHAM easily, 140.2-129.2. More importantly, they eclipsed the 140-point barrier for the first time this season.

“We had such a high average last year, and we’ve been aiming for it all year,” said the coach. “Every year is different, but when you go into states looking for a postseason title, you really have to get into that 140 range. Otherwise, you don’t have a chance at New Englands or the State Open.”

It helps that Southington’s experienced gymnasts are hitting their marks. Over four events in the all-around competition, Sporbert scored 35.25 out of 40 possible points. Rothstein finished with 35.0 points, and Nati scored 34.95, but the Knights are being buoyed by their newcomers as well.

Against RHAM, sophomore Vicky Castillo tied Nati with a 34.95 and scored for the team in every event. Freshman Taryn Meenan (32.75) scored for the Knights on beam (8.05). Natalie Rickard, Sarah Dolan, and Kayla Birmingham have each worked their way into the lineup in various events.

Despite their success, O’Donnell said that the team is just scratching the surface. The 140 point barrier is just the first step.

“I’m very proud of what they did, but you know that this still wasn’t our best meet,” she said. “I’m really happy that we hit that score, but I still think we can push it a little bit further. I’m still waiting for that moment when we put it all together.”

During a 138.5-118.5 win over Wethersfield on Saturday, Southington’s depth was put to the test when an injury scratched Sporbert from the lineup after two events. Rothstein countered with her best performance of year with top scores on vault (9.3), bars (8.8), beam (9.3), and floor (9.15). Her score in the all-around (36.55) broke the 36-point barrier for the first time this season.

“She actually has a few versions of ever routine that she does, and that’s what’s so good about her,” said O’Donnell. “Lexi is always working towards something more. She’s always trying to upgrade or trying to add in a little something here or there. That’s what will really work for her at the end of the season, and she seems to improve each week.”

Nati (34.75) and Castillo (33.95) showcased their consistency, but the injury Sporbert posed a test for the newcomers. Birmingham scored on beam (7.3). Jessie Kane scored on floor (8.3), and Southington never missed a beat.

That will be the focus over the rest of the season as the Knights look to improve and stay healthy.

“The first part of the season is always so important because I use it to see where I’m going to put all our players. The second half of the season is about maintaining and building, so we have to start fixing our routines to see what works and what doesn’t,” O’Donnell said. “I want to see how they do, so that we can work toward that postseason. Everything that we do is aimed at the postseason.”

So it’s no surprise that Southington’s average after six meets (138.967) has pushed them over Hand (134.717), Glastonbury (134.74), and Wilton (136.6) to the No. 2 spot. Woodstock Academy remains in the top spot with a 142.15 average after three meets.

“It’s important, but I really don’t look too much at the rankings,” O’Donnell said. “Sure, we watch it, but we’re not too focused on it. It helps keep us motivated to do a little bit better. Yeah, we can see how well we’re doing, but it also shows us that we can do a little better. We still haven’t shown our best yet.”

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

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