By BRIAN JENNINGS
Four gymnasts represented Southington at the state open at New Milford High School on Saturday, March 5. Although the Lady Knights’ season came to an end a week shorter than last year, Lady Knight coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell said her team had a great meet despite tough judging.
“At the state meet, I thought our judging was pretty tough,” said the coach. “Today, it was really tight the whole day.”
O’Donnell said that part of the reason for tougher judging might be due to an increased level of competition across the top teams.
“Greenwich had more club girls join,” she said, “and having Woodstock, of course, makes it a little bit tougher now.”
Greenwich (140.4) might have had one of their best seasons in years, but the powerhouse duo of Paige Stuynisky and Grace Logan was too much for Greenwich sophomore Adnerys De Jesus to handle by herself as Stuyniski and Logan boosted Woodstock Academy (147.3) their fifth-straight state open title, winning by almost seven points.
HK-Hale Ray-Coginchaug (136) finished third, followed by Daniel Hand (131.425) in fourth.
Taryn Meenan led the Knights in two events, tying for 16th on vault (8.65), which was her best event in the competition.
“I think vault has been her most consistent event for her all year,” said O’Donnell. “It’s definitely one of her better events. She went out, went really hard, and had a great vault. The judging was really tough at the open, so I’m pretty proud of her for placing 16th.”
Meenan also tied for 20th on bars (8.0) as the only Southington gymnast to qualify in the event.
“It was actually one of her better bar routines of the year,” the Knights coach said. “Although the score doesn’t reflect it, it was really good. She was nice and clean, and pretty confident going into it.”
After performing one of her best routines on floor at the state meet, Meenan carried the momentum over to the state open, wrapping up her day by tying for 21st on floor (8.625). O’Donnell said that she thought her floor routine on Saturday was just as good as her floor routine at the state meet.
“She [Meenan] really fought for her landings and went hard for her tumbling,” the coach said. “The last few meets she got it all together.”
O’Donnell said that Meenan had a very solid day on all three events.
“The added pressure was off with having the team and having to qualify,” she said. “So I think that she could just concentrate on her routines and doing her personal best.”
Kayla Birmingham scored the Knights’ best mark on floor (8.95), tying for 12th.
“Kayla did a new tumbling pass in her floor routine,” the coach said. “I think that was really great for her to do and will build a lot of confidence for her for next year. Instead of doing a full twist, she did a one and a half twist, which was a great upgrade.”
Birmingham also placed 23rd on vault (8.375).
“She stuck her first vault, so I thought that was pretty good to see also,” O’Donnell said.
Vicky Castillo continued to lead the Knights on beam, finishing in 10th position with an 8.775. Castillo also finished 27th on vault (8.0).
“She really hit her beam routine,” said O’Donnell. “There was a spot where she had a little wobble, but she definitely caught herself. Just being a senior, it was a great way to end her gymnastics career really, to end on a high note like that.”
Rachel Williams placed 18th on beam (8.425), tied for 25th on floor (8.475), and finished 30th on vault (7.55).
“She’s a sophomore competing at opens without having the team out there with her,” the Southington coach said.
With the Knights’ season coming to an end after making the New England Championships as a team for the past three years, O’Donnell said that she was really proud at the fact that her girls went out by trying their best.
“It’s hard in any situation when you’re on a team all year and then only four individuals qualify for the open,” said O’Donnell. “The other girls did come out and support them, but they were up in the stands. I’m just proud of them for pushing through and doing the best that they could do out there.”
The Knights are graduating six seniors, including Castillo. O’Donnell said that returning three girls from the state open for next season will have a major impact on her young team.
“It showed the younger girls that if you do work hard, you can achieve anything that you want,” the coach said. “It motivates them to do better. Next year as everyone moves up and gets a little bit older, we’ll have gained more experience from the year before.”
The top three teams (Woodstock, Greenwich, HK-HR-Coginchaug) will be joined by the top six individual gymnasts on each event, including all-around, to represent the state at the New England championships this weekend. This is the first time since 2012 that Southington has not competed in the team or individual competition at the regional meet.
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