Perham gymnastics golden once again
BY BRIAN WIERIMA
MINNEAPOLIS - Number seven is now in the history books.
The legend of the Perham gymnastics team has grown and has added yet another chapter in what is becoming one of Minnesota's strongest dynasties.
The Yellowjackets extended their Class 1A state championship streak to seven, after claiming the team title Friday inside the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion with a score of 149.9.
Becker was Perham's biggest threat -- finishing with a mark of 144.975.
The Bulldogs actually led after two events by .50 of a point at 74.575 to 74.525 after Perham's vault and bars.
But the Bulldogs couldn't match the Yellowjackets' dominance on beam and floor in the second half of the meet, as Perham easily put space between themselves and the eventual second-place team.
"It's seventh heaven," commented Perham head coach Charlie Fleck on his team's seventh state championship.
Perham has also elevated themselves to historic levels, after tying the Mahtomedi 1987-1993 teams for most consecutive gymnastics titles in state history.
"This is the happiest I've ever been," said senior Jenna Schmitz, who has been on six of those Yellowjacket championship teams. "It's hard to explain what it means, but I'm just so happy for the team."
But the meet didn't start out as business as usual for the Yellowjackets, who scored a 37.25 on vault as their first event.
Although it's a score most teams would love to record, it wasn't up to par for the Yellowjackets, despite all of them hitting over 9.0's.
"They were a little nonchalant when we started the meet, we didn't have a lot of intensity to begin with," Fleck said. "And that has happened like three to four times to us at state before."
But with three of the five scores on bars at a 9.2 or better, the Black and Yellow Machine was just getting warmed up.
Schmitz led the way with a 9.65, with junior Kelsi Vomacka close in tow at 9.6 and junior Mikaela Eickschen scoring a 9.55.
"We definitely were not as pumped up as we should have been to start the meet, but then a couple of us started hitting our bar routines and it just went from there," said Vomacka, who has now been on five state championship teams.
The third event was Perham's determining strength the entire season -- the beam.
It also was an example of what makes the Yellowjackets above and beyond any gymnastics team in the state.
After Vomacka had an ultra-rare fall off of beam to finish with an 8.9, sophomore Satera Montella picked her up with a 9.6 and Eickschen landed an impressive 9.55.
The team finished with a 37.475 total beam score, which separated them from Becker, which scored a 34.825.
"After I fell, Satera and Carly were there to pick me up," Vomacka said. "That's what a team is for. I don't feel we have as much depth as we have had several years ago, but we have girls who know what to do, when they need to do it.
"That's why we are state champions."
The momentum train by then was in full throttle, as Perham ripped up the floor with all five gymnasts landing 9.0 scores or better.
Eickschen hit a 9.6, while being followed by each of Montella and Schmitz with 9.575 scores each.
Vomacka landed a 9.15 and junior Carly Petersen finished with a 9.075.
Number seven is special in its own way for many reasons for each of the Perham gymnasts.
For Schmitz, it was her last team competition in what is a storied prep career.
Emotion was prevalent on Schmitz' face, as she went around the Perham area of fans, giving out hugs and posing for pictures.
"I've had a lot of different teammates through the years and I've gone through different maturity levels," Schmitz said. "I remember when I was in eighth grade and waiting to be that senior.
"I've always tried to have a positive attitude and try to give that 'pumping up' speech to the team. I'm excited for the team, but it really won't sink in until I am heading back home."
Fleck, who has been with Schmitz every step of the way, has seen his lone senior collected six state team titles, six section championships, six Mid-State Conference banners, two All-State Elite honors and an individual state bars championship.
"For an athlete to collect all that in one career, I have not seen it," Fleck said. "Jenna is a leader in her own way and she really has come up big for us in the last month."
Montella ended up being the wildcard for the Yellowjackets, after competing in her fourth state team meet.
"She's the franchise," Vomacka added about her sophomore teammate. "Her bar routine is what made us start things going. I can't wait to see what she can pull for us in the next couple of years."
Even the soft-spoken Montella admitted her fourth state championship was her best one yet -- performance-wise.
"This definitely was my best one yet," Montella said. "I just feel I was more of a contributor this time. We've been working so hard this year, so it's nice to win it."
Fleck has seen many elite gymnasts come and go through the Perham program, but as a unit, he ranks this year's the best.
The Yellowjackets hit over a 150-plus team score three times -- including a 151.65 to win the Section 8-1A title -- and ended the season with an average of 150.9.
But as the Yellowjackets progressed through the season, No. 7 never really came up.
"We hardly ever talked about it," Fleck said. "But I will rank Perham as the No. 1 community as far as support goes. They are all part of the process, it's not just about the kids and coaches.
"It's a goldmine here."
And gold, is certainly something the Perham gymnastics team is used to winning.