By KEVIN ROBERTS
For the third time in three years, Southington High School gymnastics has a new coach. Former Lady Knight gymnast and SHS Class of 2012 graduate Cassidy Chamberland returns to her former team to take over the position.
Chamberland, a first-year physical education teacher at SHS, was a volunteer assistant to Kim Vaillancourt last season.
“I was just kind of getting my foot in the door with the gymnastics team here,” Chamberland said. “Prior to that, I had been coaching gymnastics for like five years [at the Southington YMCA].”
Vaillancourt took over for Kaitlyn O’Donnell, who coached the team from 2013 to 2017. Vaillancourt will be a volunteer assistant to Chamberland. Marilyn Sporbert will serve as an assistant coach to Chamberland.
Chamberland believes her experience competing in high school and club gymnastics will be her biggest asset as coach.
“I know how both of the systems work, and I can work with the girls’ strengths that they have in club gymnastics and kind of make it work for the high school team,” Chamberland said. “And also, just be that voice for them to have fun on their high school team.”
There’s a rift in town between high school and club gymnastics, and Chamberland said she would hope that the rich tradition of SHS gymnastics would win prospective student-athletes over.
“I would hope that it would be a selling point, but the difficult thing right now is that there’s also club gymnastics, which goes on at the same time as high school gymnastics,” Chamberland said. “The girls are competing for their club, and they’re competing for the high school. A lot of the club gyms are preventing the girls from also doing the high school team because there’s a little bit of compromise with scoring. If you’re competing for the high school team, some of your scores might not count for the club team.”
Southington was 1-4 in dual meets last season and finished sixth out of eight teams in the Class L state meet. The Knights are led by senior captain Mychele Vaillancourt, but she is the lone senior on the roster. Leading a group of sophomores is Natalie Reeves, a very talented gymnast who had a strong freshman season.
“She competed last year, she made it to the State Open, so she’s going to be a huge asset this year,” Chamberland said.
Chamberland said she’s looking forward to having sophomore Elizabeth Beaulieu back out on the mat. Beaulieu didn’t get much time as a freshman because of an ankle injury. Beaulieu is fearless and will go for things that other gymnasts won’t, according to Chamberland.
“She has a lot of talent for such a young age. I’ve been with her since she was little, at the Y,” Chamberland said. “She’s one of the hardest-working gymnasts that I’ve ever seen, so I’m excited that she’s able to come out there and really show everyone what she’s got.”
Reeves will be joined by fellow sophomores Kaylin Leifert and Alexa Caron. Fellow sophomore
Haley Derwin may not compete this season due to a knee injury, but she has been working as a team manager, Chamberland said.
Freshmen Makyla Phillip and Rylee LeClair are the newest members of the Southington program. Phillip has never done gymnastics before. LeClair hasn’t formally competed, but she takes lessons at American Gymnastics, where SHS home meets will be held this season.
The Knights lost Rachel Williams, Jen Thai and Kat Rothstein to graduation.
“They were some of our top competitors last year, so to have them all graduate and not be on the team anymore is going to be difficult for us,” Chamberland, “but again with Lizzie, Natalie, our whole sophomore crew, and Mychele, hopefully they’ll be able to step up and take over for them.”
Chamberland said she’s ready for her first season as coach, which begins on Saturday against Farmington at 5 p.m. at Farmington Valley Gymnastics in Plainville.
“Pretty much all of the teams in our conference are going to be contenders for us, with such a small roster, but we’re looking forward to taking it on,” Chamberland said.
Southington competes against Farmington, Hall, Wethersfield, Glastonbury, South Windsor and Conard. The Knights have their first home meet against Hall on Jan. 12 at 6:30 p.m. at American Gymnastics. The last meet of the regular season will also be home, against Conard on Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com