PERHAM -- This weekend Perham makes its 11th consecutive trip to the Minnesota Class A State Gymnastics Meet at the University of Minnesota and keeping that streak alive is something this young team was determined to continue.
"We just wanted to get there and keep our section streak going and go down there and have fun," Jordan Martinson said.
"Pretty excited we kept the streak going and didn't let any of the past teams down," said Justine Meyer.
Martinson and Meyer led the way with third and fourth place all-around scores at the Section meet to advance.
The pressure from the history of Perham gymnastics is enough to handle for each season's team, but this one - with a sophomore and underclassmen taking charge - did not let that deter them in sealing the Section 8A title in Park Rapids last weekend.
"We've really gotten better the last month of the season," Head Coach Charlie Fleck said. "We're really going to be good next year. We've got two kids coming up that will be in the all-around."
After the past two teams - a state champion squad in 2011 with three seniors, Kelsi Vomacka, Mikaela Eickschen and Carly Peterson, and last year's fourth place team, led by senior Satera Montella - this team will not have a senior on the squad until the 2014-15 season - now a sophomore Alexis Peichel.
Peichel battled at the Section meet after missing her dismount on beam to qualify for state on bars and put up important scores on the three remaining events. Leadership is most important when things are not at its peak and while a youngster herself, Peichel is the most experienced of the group and showed it at Park Rapids.
"I knew I couldn't get down on myself too much, because I still had three events to go and I had to help the team out," Peichel said. "Even the best fall down sometimes. You just have to pick yourself up and keep going."
"When we fall like that we have to pick each other back up," said Martinson.
Martinson also has memories of success at the state tournament. Her beam routine in 2011 was a state championship clinching performance when the team needed it. Seventh-graders at state are nothing new for the Yellowjackets and she is the proof.
By criteria, Peichel and Breitenfeldt had all-state performances at last year's state meet. The duo, along with Martinson, Meyer and Adrienne Meyer each recorded all-state honorable mention performances.
The machine that is Perham gymnastics has typically been dialed in and tuned up this time of year. It shows in both the crispness of practice and in the few words needed to motivate a young team, but also a team with five gymnasts experienced at state already in their young careers.
"We start at 5:30 and we're done by 7," Fleck said. "We do a certain amount of routines and then we're done. That's kind of the way it's been through the years. You get conditioned to what you need to do; you speed up and get faster because it gets easier. I'm proud of these really young girls but we've had to crack the whip the last month."
The benefit of the work put in - that has seen a team vastly improve in such a short amount of time - is it is now state tournament time, again. In Perham, there is a genuine enthusiasm to routinely reach the ultimate meet each year.
"We're slowly building up," said Meyer. "Considering how young our team is we have a long way to go."
The upcoming seasons will see this team continue to build experience and expertise. The Yellowjackets will be a force at the state tournament in years to come and also have a shot at this year's title, despite a number of favored and more veteran teams, including defending champions Melrose, along with Austin and New Prague.
"Probably not last," Martinson laughed when asked if there was a targeted placing in mind. "If we can win, that would be awesome. You never know."
"I'm excited," said Peichel. "I like the state tournament. Do your best, that's all you can ask for."
"You go down there and you hit 20 for 20 and you could be in there," said Fleck.
Perham has seized momentum in January and February, almost with no choice. Weather played a big factor in creating a gap in competition, including the holiday break. A number of lengthy road trips also weathered the young group.
"We missed out on two weeks, said Fleck. "Couple storms where we missed school and missed practice, late nights on the road to Bemidji and we went right to the True Team from there."
The True Team meet is held in Jackson, a five-hour trip one way.
Fleck has a much-proven knack for getting the most out of his gymnasts and with one last road trip to go in the season needs few words to kick off a continuing and incredible decade, plus one, on the road to the Sports Pavillion in Minneapolis.
When asked what he has said to the team about the coming state meet, Fleck replied, "Not really anything. Practice hard and get your stuff done."
Fleck's prepared Yellowjackets are smack in the middle of continuing the program's success and at the apex of a long streak together to bring home a ninth state title and possibly a few more. That run starts this weekend.
"This is great experience for our kids," said Fleck. "Just what the doctor ordered."