By BRIAN JENNINGS
A fifth-place finish out of 12 schools at the 2015 New England Interscholastic Girl’s Gymnastics Championships on Saturday, Mar. 14 at the Pinkerton Academy Field House in Derry, N.H. brought nothing, but smiles to the faces of the Southington Lady Knights, even when a couple obstacles were thrown their way.
The Knights (137.875) finished behind Shrewsbury, Mass. (143.65), Pinkerton Academy, N.H. (144.675), Woodstock Academy (147.0), and Barnstable, Mass. (147.125).
“All the Connecticut girls and schools root for each other,” said Southington coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell. “I thought Woodstock was very deserving of first place. It was so close. I was disappointed that they didn’t win.”
The Knights combined for 35 points on beam to finish sixth overall, and it was a banged up Marilyn Sporbert who surprised everyone.
“We were down an athlete,” O’Donnell said. “Marilyn hurt her knee in warm-ups.” We weren’t at our best, but besides that the girls pulled together, and I thought they did really well. We wanted to get top five and we got there.”
Sporbert usually competes on all four events for the Knights, but was only able to compete on two because of her injury. Sporbert tied for 42nd on bars (7.350) and miraculously fought through the pain to lead the Knights on beam (9.050), tying for 12th.
“Beam was fairly good too,” said O’Donnell. “We put up a good fight on beam, even though our scores don’t reflect it. I thought that the girls did well for themselves.”
The Knights (34.550) finished fifth overall on floor, led by Lexi Rothstein (9.175) who finished eighth overall. Gymnasts were forced to perform their routines on a mat, and many struggled to adjust their routines.
“They didn’t have a spring floor,” said O’Donnell. “They had a foam floor, which is a lot different than a spring floor. It’s very hard and kind of like a cheerleading floor. The committee told us the week before, but we didn’t have anywhere to train on that kind of floor because there aren’t any of those around here. We had to water down our floor routines, even though floor is our best event.”
As a group, the Knights (36.050) finished fifth overall on vault and were again led by Rothstein (9.25) who tied for 12th. Candis Kowalik (9.675) of Warwick Veterans, R.I. led all gymnasts on vault.
“Our vaults were really good,” the Knights coach said. “We didn’t have Marilyn, who is our top vaulter, so we had to throw someone else in there. But everyone stepped up and did the best that they could, and we got some really good scores.”
The Knights (32.275) struggled on bars, finishing eighth overall, but were led by a hopeful Sarah Leahy (8.400) who tied for 23rd.
“We were having trouble on bars, and Sarah really stepped up to give us a great bar routine,” said O’Donnell. “Bars were definitely a struggle for us. The last two meets, we struggled on bars. I knew that it was going to be a trouble spot for us, but we pulled through the best that we could. I thought we ended off pretty well.”
The underclassmen also stepped up and did well for themselves on such a big stage. Vicky Castillo, Taryn Meenan, Kayla Birmingham, Sarah Dolan, and Rachel Williams helped the Knights in all four events.
Rothstein (35.3) led the Knights in the all-around competition, finishing 16th overall. Paige Stuyniski of Woodstock Academy led all gymnasts on bars (9.65), beam (9.7), floor (9.575), and all-around (38.475).
O’Donnell said she thought her girls fought hard and had a great year.
“I was a nice end to our season,” the Southington coach said. “It was nice way for our three, graduating, senior captains to end their last year and the team is definitely going to miss them. They’ve had such an impact on our team and program. We’ve been trying to revive and get big again. They were a huge part of that.”
Looking to next season, O’Donnell said she is looking forward to working with the underclassmen and building on what the team did this season.
“Those freshmen and sophomores are going to be moving up a year and hopefully gaining more skills,” said O’Donnell.