Willmar Cardinal gymnasts ‘excited’ for sections
Read how Willmar aims to earn third-straight state berth Saturday
HOWARD LAKE — On the heels of a third-place finish at the Central Lakes Conference Championships last Saturday, the Willmar gymnastics team shifted its attention this past week to another potential trip to state.
The Cardinals will compete in the Section 6A meet at 1 p.m. Saturday from the MAWSECO Building School Gym in Howard Lake. There, the team aims to capture its third-straight berth to the state tournament and fifth in program history.
“The girls are focused,” co-head coach Jodi Mottinger said. “They are feeling good and everybody is healthy. I asked them (Wednesday) how they were feeling about Saturday and they said they were excited, confident and ready to compete.”
Willmar enters the meet as the favorite to earn a spot in St. Paul. The team is ranked eighth in the state in Class A and has a scoring average of 142.942 heading into Saturday. Teams also in search of the section title are No. 11 Benson/Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (138.008), No. 12 New London-Spicer (137.742), No. 13 Annandale (137.550) and No. 17 Litchfield (134.983).
As excited as they are, do the Cardinals feel any pressure to live up their ranked while trying to earn the three-peat?
“I asked them that too, if they were feeling any pressure, and they said no,” Mottinger said. “Our mantra for the last couple of years has been ‘Go do what we do, not worry about anybody else, focus on ourselves and most importantly, have fun.’ Usually, it’s worked out as far as the outcome as long as they keep that mindset.”
The Cardinals have reason to feel loose entering sections; they are performing are their best at the right time. At the CLC meet, the team tied its season-high mark of 142.95. Willmar is hitting on all cylinders right now. That is juxtaposed to the beginning of the season when the team was in search of answers to fill 12 spots due to injury and graduation.
“At first, it was rocky, but we all worked super hard in between,” senior co-captain Presleigh Schrupp said. “We kept pushing through. In our first meet, we weren’t sure where we were going to be and what kind of score we were going to put up. As we kept going, we kept improving and being more consistent. ... It’s just been fun to see the younger kids step up and us to be more solid in our skills on our events.”
Schrupp is one of three Cardinals looking to repeat as an individual state qualifier. Last season, the senior competed at state on the uneven bars.
Starting the year on the sidelines while recovering a torn anterior cruciate ligament injury, junior co-captain Abby Coquyt is seeking a fourth-straight trip to state. As an eighth-grader, Coquyt performed on the beam before earning an all-around spot as a freshman, and spots on the vault, bars and floor exercise as a sophomore.
Senior Kirah Kessler-Gross is trying to reach state for the third consecutive season. Two years ago, she qualified in two events (beam, floor). Last season, she competed in three events (beam, floor, vault).
Kessler-Gross has a strong chance of bumping her event total up to four this season after picking up all-conference honors in the all-around last week. However, the senior is more worried about her effort than the result.
“I try not to think about that,” Kessler-Gross said. “Honestly, I just want to go out there and give it my best shot. If it doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t happen, but if it does, that’s just perfectly fine. I just try not to put that much pressure on myself cause it might be my last time competing cause its my senior year. If I make it in the all-around or just one event, it doesn’t really. I just need to show up.”