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State Gymnastics: New London-Spicer admits this state berth is special

Wildcats return as a team for the first time since 2007. Willmar, Benson/KMS also have individual competing Friday at Champlin Park.

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New London-Spicer senior Ashlyn Olson performs on the vault during the Section 6A gymnastics championship Friday at New London-Spicer High School in New London. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Twitter was in its infancy while Instagram and Tik Tok were years from being invented the last time the New London-Spicer gymnastics program sent a team to state.

The Wildcats make their first team appearance at the state meet since 2007 when they compete in the Class A championships set for 11:30 a.m. Friday from Champlin Park High School.

The Section 6A champions will participate in the first of two sessions, along with St. Paul Highland Park, Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka and defending state champion Big Lake. The second session begins at 6 p.m. with Perham/New York Mills, Mankato West, Worthington and Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa all taking part. Results will be compiled to determine the top finishers.

Head coach Cindy Jacobson and spotter Chad Powers were there when NLS punched its ticket in 2007. The duo has since helped more than a dozen Wildcat gymnasts earn trips to state as individual qualifiers.

NLS coaches take pride in each individual who has represented the program at the big stage. But make no mistake, the team accomplishment is a bit more meaningful.

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Gymnasts compete in the Section 6A gymnastics championship on Friday at New London-Spicer High School in New London. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

“We were so happy for all the individuals that made it from 2007 to now, but making it as a team is so much more special,” said Jacobson, who has spent the last half of a 32-year coaching career at NLS. “Everyone is involved and they did it together. I think that says a lot about a team where they work together and support each other.”

Jacobson says there are many similarities between the 2007 and 2021 teams, namely each feature a number of girls from the Willmar Wings gymnastics club.

‘Cats at ease

In their first practice since breaking the 14-year drought, the Wildcats admitted to being sore on Monday after training hard in the leadup to the section meet. The day’s practice was primarily geared toward the balance beam and the uneven bars with a lighter workload on the floor exercise and vault.

Practice will ramp up in the days leading up to the meet, but the team isn’t interested in making any drastic changes or placing added pressure on the gymnasts.

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“These girls are pretty easy going; they’re pretty relaxed,” Jacobson said. “The biggest thing we’ve always said is that making it there is going to be an honor and I think they kind of take that in stride. Not that we don’t care, but we’ve made it there and we just have to do what we know how to do. We aren’t going to add anything new; we are just cleaning up their skills.”

Individual competition will take place at the same time as team competition this year.

NLS will have five gymnasts participate in the individual meet: Ciera Anderson, Abby Knudsen, Ashlyn Olson, Kamryn Quenemoen and Lili Sampson. Anderson qualified in the all-around. Knudsen will compete on the bars and vault. Quenemoen also made it in a pair of events (vault and bars) while Olson (floor) and Sampson (vault) are in a single event.

Quenemoen and Sampson are each making their second consecutive state appearance.

“Last year, I was so focused, but this year is going to be a whole lot more fun with the whole team,” Sampson said. “I think we’re just happy that we made it, but we all want to do well at the (meet).”

Cards overcome

NLS’ team state berth means that Willmar will not represent Section 6A for the first time since 2017.

The Cardinals fell short of a four-peat following a second-place finish at the section meet. Despite the disappointment, they managed a season-best score of 140.475.

The team battled through a number of injuries this season, from knee issues to concussions. Also, members of the program missed time due to COVID concerns. Through all the adversity, Willmar had its best meet of the season when it mattered most.

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“Until the section meet, we hadn’t had a full lineup since the first meet,” Cards co-head Doug Rossum said. “It was tough to see what we were capable of. But on Friday for the section meet, we finally pulled everything together. We had a good lineup and a good meet. We didn’t hit on everything, but we did very well.

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“I’m really proud of the girls. It’s tough to fight all year, sit at that 127-to-134-mark, not be able to get any further and think and keep yourself motivated to shoot for that 140-mark and possibly win at the section tournament.”

After 24 seasons of coaching, Rossum will step away from his co-head coaching duties at the end of the season, handing the full reins over to Josie Kent. In his final act in his role, he will help guide four Cardinals who made to state on the individual side.

In her first year with the team, Lyndi Koosman qualified in the all-around. She is joined by Kim Joneson (bars, beam); Tayva Carruthers (bars, beam); and Abby Coquyt (bars, floor).

“Practice was a little different (Monday),” Coquyt said. “We didn’t have all of our girls in our gym, which kind of stinks. We had four girls make it to state, which is still amazing and I’m very proud of the three girls that made it with me. ... Just having four girls make it and we’re all supporting each other throughout the day just makes it a lot better than being there by yourself.”

Coquyt is making her fifth individual appearance at state.

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The Willmar gymnastics team salutes the crowd after winning the Section 6A championship Saturday at Howard Lake. The Cardinals are headed to state for the third straight year. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

The senior says competing at state as an eighth-grader is probably her most memorable experience, but qualifying for state this year doesn’t rank too far behind.

She was shelved for the majority of the season after suffering a knee injury during the team’s second meet of 2021. Coquyt says she didn’t start tumbling and adding to her floor routine until the week leading up the section meet. She was crowned section champion on floor with a score of 9.400.

“Hearing my name being called was so amazing,” Coquyt said after her floor victory. “I battled through so many mental blocks this year and things with my knee.”

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Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg sophomore Libby McGeary performs her floor routine Friday during the Section 6A gymnastics championship at New London-Spicer High School in New London. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Setting nerves aside

Last, but not certainly least, the area’s best gymnast is also headed to Champlin. Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg sophomore Libby McGeary enters state as the section champion in the all-around.

She had falls on beam and vault at the section meet, but still posted the top score of 36.625 to win the all-around title.

McGeary says she’s most excited to perform on beam and floor entering into her second state appearance. The sophomore is aiming for an all-around score of 37.000

“She’s been doing her routines all season long and she has them executed very well at this part of the season,” Benson/KMS head coach Kathy Arhndt said. “I feel like she has a lot of confidence at the routine she’s throwing and the repetition has been there for her.”

As a ninth-grader, McGeary wound up 19th in the state all-around (35.575). She also expects to be a bit more relaxed compared to her debut.

“I was very nervous competing in such a big gym,” McGeary said of the 2020 state meet. “I think I’ll be more calm this year, knowing what it was like last year.”

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Willmar's Abby Coquyt poses after her landing in the uneven bars while co-head coach Doug Rossum applauds during the 2020 Class A state gymnastics team championship meet on Feb. 21, 2020 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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Willmar's Abby Coquyt poses after her landing in the uneven bars while co-head coach Doug Rossum applauds during the 2020 Class A state gymnastics team championship meet on Feb. 21, 2020 at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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