WILLMAR — When Willmar gymnastics opens its 2021 season, the team will feature a number of changes from the squads that won three consecutive Section 6A titles.
The Cardinals host Fergus Falls at 6 p.m. Friday in a Central Lakes Conference meet.
Several program veteran are gone due to graduation. Certainly, losing seniors is a normal occurrence. However, the team will be slightly different at the top.
For much of the last decade, Doug Rossum and Jodi Mottinger were co-head coaches for the Cardinals. This year, Rossum will remain at his position while Josie Kent will step into the co-head coach position after four years as an assistant coach.
“She’s been a great addition ever since she came on and is really knowledgeable about the sport,” Rossum said of Kent.
Mottinger will remain with the team in an assistant role.
“It’s been really smooth,” Kent said of the change. “Jodi kind of thought of this idea for use to switch roles to make that transition easier. That’s been super helpful. And Doug is an experienced head coach, so that’s been helpful as well.”
The duo inherit a team that’s a bit smaller than in years past. Fifteen girls came out for gymnastics this year. That’s compared to 25 girls on the roster for the 2019-20 campaign.
As practice opened, Kent has faced a bit of adversity out of the gate when Rossum, the team’s main spotter, was sidelined for the first week and a half due to COVID-19. Yet, with a smaller roster, Kent was able to make do.
“It was manageable when Doug was out,” Kent said. “It’s not ideal. We don’t want to have a super small team, but if there was any year to have one, it would be this year. ... The girls have been working through it, doing things on their own and doing a great job.”
Seniors Abby Coquyt and Tayva Carruthers serve as Willmar’s key returners. Coquyt has qualified for the state individual meet the previous four years. Carruthers made her state debut on the beam last season. Those two will compete in the all-around.
The rest of the spots will be filled by girls without a ton of time on varsity. Sophomores Kim Joneson and Tiffany Franzwa, along with freshman Kylie Porttiin and freshman newcomer Lyndi Koosman are some of the names vying for open positions. These girls will be able to participate at junior varsity to gain experience.
A condensed season adds to the team’s challenges as the gymnasts have less time to get up to speed. The Cardinals will have less chances to ramp up their level of performance.
With postseason plans not yet released, it’s uncertain if a fourth straight state appearance for Willmar will be at stake this season. Even if the state meet is on, the team isn’t looking too far ahead.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get the girls as in shape as they can be and get their skills back after a long break because their safety and their skillwork is first,” Kent said. “So that pressure isn’t really on them yet, right now we’re just trying to slowly progress.
“Our goal is definitely just to see continued growth throughout every meet because it is such a short preseason. The girls aren’t going to be up to the level that they’ll want to be for the first meet, so we’ll be focusing on getting them up to the highest level that they possibly could do in this short season.”
Here’s a look at the other area gymnastics programs competing in Section 6A.
Head coach: Kathy Ahrndt
2019-20 finish: Second at the Section 6A meet
Key losses: Mariah Ahrndt, Allie Mitteness
Key returners: Makenna Kelley (sr.), Torie Andrews (jr.), Taylor Rohner-Swart (jr.), Libby McGeary (so.), Emma Krusemark (so.), Ellie Krusemark (so.), Hannah Duncan (so.)
First scheduled meet: 6 p.m. Friday at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle
From Coach Ahrndt: “Benson/KMS gymnastics has an exciting year ahead. I think even more importantly than scores, in about three weeks we get to move into a new gymnastics facility that was built in Benson and it’s going to have a pit for gymnasts. ... Our team and our parents are pretty excited to move into this new facility and I think a lot of our girls are excited to be able to work on those higher level skills that we really haven’t been able to do safely in our gym without the training of pits.”
Head coach: Sara Holmgren
2019-20 finish: Fifth at the Section 6A meet
Key losses: Megan Nelson, Cecilia Toenjes
Key returners: Vail Kaping (sr.), Grace Borowicz (jr.), Emma Brown (jr.), Olivia Holmgren (so.) Raina Kaping (so.)
First scheduled meet: 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29 at Annandale
From Coach Holmgren: “We only have six regular season meets, which is very different. So they’re going to have a lot of time at practice to perfect their routines and make them what they want them to be. Gymnastics is a sport of discipline, so with all that practice time, they have to be disciplined and put that extra work in to get what they want out of it.”
Head coach: Cindy Jacobson
2019-20 finish: Fourth at the Section 6A meet
Key losses: Kaitlyn Quenemoen, Saige Carlson, Caroline Wehseler
Key returners: Ashlyn Olson (sr.), Maddy Iverson (sr.), Lili Sampson (sr.), Kamryn Quenemoen (jr.), Morgan Schwandt (jr.), Quinn Nelson (jr.), Taylor Knudson (jr.)
First scheduled meet: 6 p.m. Tuesday vs. Willmar
From Coach Jacobson: “I knew coming into the season that we definitely have talent. We have a lot of talent on the team. In the years past, we’ve always had three or four all-arounders and then girls to fill in the spots, but I have such depth this year that it's going to be nice if we all stay healthy. It’s going to be hard to make a lineup because we have such depth. I think it’s going to be ever-changing because the girls are so close in talent; what one might bring in grace, the other one brings in power, so I think we’ll have to play around with lineup to see how the judges perceive them.”
Head coach: Jesseca Engen
2019-20 finish: Eighth at the Section 6A meet
Key losses: Anna Hopfer
Key returners: Isabel Campbell (sr.), Rebekah Walz (so.), Tristen Lamberson (jr.), Macey Brutger (jr.)
First scheduled meet: 6 p.m. Thursday at Morris Area/Hancock/Chokio-Alberta
From Coach Engen: “We’re just going day-by-day, building up from what we had last year, cleaning it all up.
“The girls know that they need to practice like it's their last day. We’re getting ready to go to a meet in Morris on Thursday, so I told them to keep their eyes open because that could be our only meet for the year.”