Willmar Cardinal gymnastics taking it one flip at a time

Cardinals open new season Thursday with major changes in the lineup

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Willmar's Abby Coquyt competes in the vault during a meet against New London-Spicer last season at New London-Spicer High School. File photo

WILLMAR — On the heels of a sixth-place finish at the Class A state meet in 2018 and fourth-place result in 2019, the Willmar gymnastics will look to make program history this season by shooting for a third consecutive appearance at the big dance.

The Cardinals open the 2019-20 campaign against Annandale at 6 p.m. Thursday from Willmar High School. As the season gets going, the team’s journey to qualify for state will be without a number of key contributors from years past.

After top-20 finishes in the state all-around last season, Erica Schramm and Lydia Morrell have graduated. In addition, assistant coach and team spark plug Nick Clasemann will have his role limited after accepting a principal position within the school district.

His absence in particular has made the atmosphere through the four weeks of practice noticeably different.

“Nick was loudest guy in the gym,” senior Kirah Kessler-Gross said. “He was the guy that was always there; he was our hype man and now he’s gone. But we all are trying to step up our energy level. The coaches are trying to do anything they can to get us to where we want to be.


“He was everything to us. I would say he was our second father, honestly. He helped us out with anything outside the gym or inside the gym. He did anything to help us succeed in life.”

The Cardinals begin the year looking to fill 12 of the 20 spots in their lineup, eight of which are due to the Schramm and Morrell departures. With those two gone, Willmar’s performance in the uneven bars is expected to suffer the most. But, the coaching staff is confident a group of kids can fill the duo’s void in other areas.

“We always have kids that step up in those leadership roles, which the girls are doing now,” Willmar co-head coach Jodi Mottinger said. “We’ve got new captains. It’s just a transition year. Somebody always steps up and fills those leadership roles, which is nice.”

Seniors Mercedes Schueler and Presleigh Schrupp were named captains, as was junior Abby Coquyt, who will miss the start of the season after tearing her ACL playing soccer during the summer.

“I got named a captain this year, which is really great. I’m so happy I get to be a leader for the team,” Coquyt said. “So basically my role right now is to just cheer on the team and be as supportive as I can be for them; be another one of their coaches and just really help them out this year.”

Coquyt’s rehab has gone well to this point, as she has been cleared to begin physical activity and is targeting a late December return. While she probably won’t compete in the all-around right off the bat, the junior will likely compete on the bars and balance beam.

In the meantime, other gymnasts have an opportunity to earn scores for the team.

After an abbreviated stint as an eighth-grader, freshman Kim Joneson will have extended time with varsity this year. Entering her junior season, Jessica Miller will complete on the floor exercise, bars, and vault after only participating on the floor, previously.


Elsewhere, Kessler-Gross and junior Tayva Carruthers bring state experience to the table and help bolster the team’s strengths: the beam and the floor.

“Floor is definitely my favorite event because you get to express yourself and dance a little bit,” Kessler-Gross remarked. “I have a different routine on floor, and then I added some stuff on beam to get a higher combination.”

Even with a core group of returners, the Cardinals understand that the makeup of the team as presently constituted is a change from years past. The gymnasts have adjusted by approaching this season with a different perspective.

The path back to Minneapolis may have gotten a little bit easier as Melrose has moved from Section 6A to 8A. Willmar will still have to contend with the likes of Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg and New London-Spicer down the line, but the team is focused on the present.

“Right now, our biggest goal is just to keep improving each meet; making improvement as we go along and focusing on our performance and not the scores right now,” Mottinger said. “I think definitely our scores will be down from what they’ve been in the past couple of years because of the loss of a couple of kids, but we just have to keep getting better and hopefully the end result will be good in the end.”

Co-head coach Doug Rossum added, “This year, the goal is no different. Go out and have fun, do your best and the scores that we want will be there.”


120519.S.WCT.Willmar Gym Kirah Kessler-Gross.jpg
Willmar's Kirah Kessler-Gross competes on the vault during the Minnesota State True Team Meet last season in Detroit Lakes. Robert Williams / Forum News Service

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