PARK RAPIDS - The battle for the Section 8A gymnastics championship was a two-team race between No. 9 Perham and No. 8 Detroit Lakes. Perham put up their highest scoring total of the season, as did the Lakers, in a duel that came down to the last rotation with one point separating both teams.
Perham secured their 11th consecutive Section 8A championship scoring 145.050 to Detroit Lakes' 144.175.
"This was one of the most rewarding wins of my career," Perham Head Coach Charlie Fleck said.
Jordan Martinson and Justine Meyer, a pair of freshman, came up with big performances finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the all-around competition to lead the Yellowjackets to victory.
Both teams ended the meet grouped together with Perham on bars and the Lakers on vault with scores from the judges being posted simultaneously to distinct roars from the fans of both teams.
Perham led DL 108.25 - 107.125 heading into the final rotation.
Both Meyer and Martinson recorded the highest scores for Perham twice. Martinson led on vault (9.4) and bars (9.3), while Meyer put up a 9.3 on beam and 9.450 on floor exercise. The latter was the highest score of the meet for the Yellowjackets.
Detroit Lakes scored higher than Perham on three of four events but Perham made their bar routines count outscoring Detroit Lakes 36.8 - 34.550, a difference of 2.25 points.
The Lakers' were unable to bridge that gap in scoring despite higher marks on vault, beam and floor.
Alexis Peichel recovered nicely after missing her dismount on beam - Perham's first rotation. Peichel came back with scoring marks of a state-qualifying 9.225 on bars and a 9.125 on floor exercise showing a steeled determination after a rough start. An impressive performance by her to come back in such fashion.
Perham also got a 9.225 performance on bars from Carly Breitenfeldt in her only event as she continues to battle injury.
"She's our best athlete," Fleck said.
Emily Martinson and Sydney Bahls, a pair of seventh graders, also contributed scoring performances: Martinson an 8.65 on vault and Bahls an 8.8 on beam. Both gymnasts showed a relaxed confidence in their performances and a pair of big smiles.
Taylor Stammen scored on her two events, vault - 8.9 and floor - 8.7.
Adrienne Meyer recorded an 8.1 on beam.
The win is even more impressive given the Yellowjackets found themselves in an underdog role to the favored Lakers, with both teams ranked in the top 10 all season and Detroit Lakes spending most of that time at No. 4 to No. 10 for Perham.
Coach Fleck had his own way of dealing with polls, rankings and the expectations of others.
"We just kept our mouths shut," said Fleck.
The Yellowjackets made a statement Saturday afternoon putting up a score that puts them in the running for the top four spots at next week's state championship. That is an incredible feat for a team that is made up of one upperclassmen, a sophomore, Peichel. The rest of the team is comprised of seventh, eighth and ninth graders.
The Section title caps a unique regular season in more ways than one.
The mid-season was interrupted by multiple weather cancellations that limited competition at the end of 2012. Perham also missed a meet to attend the funeral of Matt Shetka, the three-time state champion head coach of New Prague in December.
There were two seasons of gymnastics.
The first was the preseason where scores of 139 were good for a win. That has changed now that the post-season reaches its peak. Perham put a stamp on it by surpassing 145.
A tradition of more than a decade of dominance goes a long way and while the polls showed the Section championship was the Lakers' to win. It was, yet again, Perham's to defend.
Yellowjacket Assistant Coach Matt Horner gathered the entire team before Perham took to the vault, their third rotation and implored his team to go for the win.
"This is it!" Horner said in huddle. "Let's have fun with this."
The team that walked away from beam in consternation to start the meet finished each vault performance with sprinting hugs to each teammate. Meyer and Martinson led the way scoring 9.2 and 9.4. Fun was on their faces as they stuck landings. That emotion also translated to the final event on uneven parallel bars.
Horner can be credited for much of the team's enthusiasm. Both he and Fleck compliment each other in how they find ways to motivate gymnasts to perform to their fullest in intense situations. As the meet progressed, the body language from both coaches was on full display and that display was fun and confidence.
Adding an 11th straight section title cannot come without those two attributes and people.
"It's fun to watch," said Fleck. "It's always close."
Rachelle LeBlanc, of Little Falls, was the all-around champion with a score of 38.05. Detroit Lakes' Molly Lyngaas was runner-up scoring 37.8. Martinson (37.325) and Meyer (37.0) finished in third and fourth place. All four will take part in the individual portion of the state meet.
The State Class A Gymnastics Meets will be held Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22-23. The team portion will take place Friday and individuals on Saturday. Both meets begin at 11 a.m. with the parade of teams. The Class AA meets begin at 6 p.m. both days.
State gymnastics tickets for the Friday session of team competition are on sale at the ALC in Perham from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Adults are $12 and students are $8.
The entire state meet -- team competition on the 22nd and individual competition on the 23rd -- will be webcast live and free on Prep45.com.
The defending champions from Melrose Area return with five gymnasts who competed in the state meet last year. Six additional teams that competed in the 2012 team competition also return: New Prague, runner-up; Big Lake, third; Perham, fourth; Austin, fifth; Jackson County Central, sixth; and Rush City/Pine City/Hinckley-Finlayson, eighth. The eighth qualifying team is Delano.
Fourteen of 30 event medal-winners will return for the 2013 Class A individual competition.
Defending champion Sela Fadness of Austin is one of two returning qualifiers in floor exercise. The other returning medalist is Abby Bickler of Austin; she placed fourth last year.
Jailyn Brinkman of Melrose Area is the top returning medal-winner in uneven bars. She is looking to improve on last year's runner-up showing.
The other returning qualifiers are: Fadness of Austin, fourth; Courtney Jensen of Big Lake, fifth; and Christine Simon of New Prague, sixth.
In the balance beam competition, three medalists return: Sarah Hoffman of New Prague, runner-up; Rebecca Steen of Martin County Area, fourth; and Rachelle LeBlanc of Little Falls, sixth.
Sela Fadness of Austin and Lydia Butkowski of Melrose Area are the only two medalists returning in vault. Fadness placed third in 2012 and Butkowski was sixth.
Fadness of Austin leads three returning qualifiers in the all-around competition. She placed third last year. The other two remaining medal-winners are: Butkowski of Melrose Area, fifth; and Brinkman of Melrose Area, sixth.
Section 8A Gymnastics Championship
Feb. 16, Park Rapids, Minn.
1. Perham 145.050
2. Detroit Lakes 144.175
3. Little Falls 131.675
4. Bemidji 129.575
5. Fergus Falls 125.025
6. Long Prairie 110.850
7. Park Rapids 98.100
8. Frazee 97.675
Individual Results (top four qualify for state)
1. Rachelle LeBlanc (LF) 38.050
2. Molly Lyngaas (DL) 37.800
3. Jordan Martinson (PER) 37.325
4. Justine Meyer (PER) 37.000
5. Alexis Ostlie (DL) 34.500
1. Molly Lyngaas (DL) 9.500
2. Rachelle LeBlanc (LF) 9.425
3. Jordan Martinson (PER) 9.300
4. Alexis Peichel (PER) 9.225
5. Carly Breitenfeldt (PER) 9.225
1. Rachelle LeBlanc (LF) 9.600
2. Molly Lyngaas (DL) 9.450
3. Justine Meyer (PER) 9.300
4. Jordan Martinson (PER) 9.250
5. Emma Disse (DL) 8.825
1. Rachelle LeBlanc (LF) 9.600
2. Justine Meyer (PER) 9.450
3. Jordan Martions (PER) 9.375
4. Johanna Jemberg (DL) 9.275
5. Molly Lyngaas (DL) 9.250
PER 36.150; DL 37.050
PER 36.800; DL 34.550
PER 35.450; DL 35.700
PER 36.650; DL 36.875