By BRIAN JENNINGS
SOUTHBURY—Signs of schools in the competition hung high from the bleachers. The vault, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor mat were set up at every corner of the gymnasium at Pomperaug High School in Southbury.
The powder was out, and the tape was wrapped. Scores were posted through overhead projection. Running, jumping, swinging, and swaying from both ends set the tone for the 2015 CIAC Class L Gymnastics State Championship on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Can you say three in a row? The Southington Lady Knights gymnastics team can. The Knights (139.125) won their third consecutive state championship by more than six points. Norwich Free Academy (132.675) followed in second and Glastonbury (131.900) in third.
The Knights entered the competition as the two-time defending champions and an eight-point favorite in the rankings, competing against seven other schools.
“Vault and floor were really good events for us,” said Southington coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell. “We didn’t do our best on bars, but we got through it. We definitely struggled on beam. Overall, we had a great day.”
The Knights finished first in all four events with floor being the best event.
“Floor is always a really good event for us. It’s our most confident event,” O’Donnell said. “They really pulled themselves together after having a little mishap on beam. They were sticking their landings and it was really nice to just sit back and watch them.”
Lexi Rothstein (9.05) and Marilyn Sporbert (9.05) paced the Knights (35.825) on vault. Rothstein (35.55) and Sporbert (34.375) also led the team’s all-around scores.
Sarah Leahy scored on vault (8.85), bars (8.8), and floor (8.85). Vicky Castillo (8.6) scored in beam.
“All three of the seniors stepped up in their own ways,” said O’Donnell. “They impressed me with their leadership.”
Rothstein continued her stride, leading the Knights on the bars (8.9), beam (8.225), and floor (9.375). Sporbert also contributed to all four events with scores on bars (8.050), beam (8.125), and floor (9.150).
Taylor Churchill of Norwich Free Academy led the entire field on vault (9.450), bars (9.625), floor (9.500), and an all-around score (37.325). Anna Jannott (9.025) of Newtown led on beam.
“I think we were a little nervous now that I look back,” O’Donnell said. “We were a little nervous on bars and definitely nervous on beam. We’ve won two championships, and you’re trying to win the third. So it can be a little nerve-wracking going for it. Once we got on the beam, we really got confident again for floor.”
Sophomore Taryn Meenan scored on vault (8.875) and bars (8.275). Freshman Rachel Williams managed to score on beam (8.075) and floor (8.875).
“They both competed new stuff today on floor, and that impressed me,” said the coach. “It was very risky because you’re not confident and you haven’t competed it yet, especially at a setting like this. They’re a freshman and a sophomore, so to really step it up at a state meet is big.”
Now, the Knights will turn their attention to the State Open meet where, for the first time this season, they enter a competition as an underdog. Class S champion Woodstock Academy (147.625) is the favorite in the preview of the open team championship between Class L champion Southington (139.125), Class M champion Daniel Hand (138.1), and Class M champion New Milford (136.75).
O’Donnell knows what her girls need to do, in order to be ready for the competition.
“We need to prepare a little better on bars, based on what I saw today,” she said. “We just have to train all-around all week. We are going to go back and fix the little things that we found wrong in the meet. It’s the same routines we’ve done all year. It’s just perfecting them and polishing them. I’m confident in our routines. It’s just a matter of if we can hit or not.”
The test continues this weekend as the Knights look to cap a perfect season with a state open title on Saturday. Competition begins at New Milford High School at 10 a.m.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI