MINNEAPOLIS - For the second straight season, the Perham Yellowjackets finished in fourth place at the State Class A Gymnastics Meet Friday afternoon.
Perham finished with a total score of 143.3. New Prague just missed a score of 150, totaling 149.6 to win the state championship. Defending champions, Melrose, finished second with 147.9. Austin was third with 146.425.
New Prague's win was the school's fourth state championship since 1975. New Prague won titles in 2001 and 2003, the latter was the last title by a school other than Perham for the next eight years. New Prague also won a title in Class AA in 1984.
Big Lake finished fifth, followed by Jackson County Central, Rush City/Pine City/Hinckley-Finlayson and Delano. Team scores in that order were: 142.3; 141.3; 140.325 and 139.250.
Perham began on arguably their best event, uneven parallel bars. The Yellowjackets' score of 35.1 was fourth best of the eight teams and the results on bars scored in descending team order the same as the final standings with New Prague scoring a 36.375 to top the list.
Alexis Peichel and Carly Breitenfeldt led Perham both scoring 8.9. Jordan Martinson scored an 8.825, followed by Adrienne Meyer's 8.475.
"We just came in here saying just have fun and do your best because that's all you can really ask for," Peichel said.
Justine Meyer faulted on her landing ending up with a score of 8.075. The top four scores of the five members are counted in final tabulations.
Next up was balance beam, which gave Perham some fits at the Section 8A meet. At state, it ended up being their best event with a team-high score of 36.925.
As these young gymnasts have done down the stretch of the season, an error on one apparatus does not translate to the next. Justine Meyer bounced back in a big way scoring 9.35 to lead the team. Meyer's 9.35 was the highest score recorded by a Perham gymnast on the day.
Martinson scored a 9.3 as the duo that led at Sections was in true form on the beam. Peichel scored 9.15 and Adrienne Meyer was right behind with a 9.125. Seventh-grader Sydney Bahls got some big-time state experience recording an 8.6.
The state meet crowd is the loudest, by far, that any Class A team performs in front of, and on beam, the roars for other contestants make concentration a must to perform well and the entire Yellowjacket team managed that Friday.
Perham's next highest team score came on floor exercise with Peichel's 9.225 mark leading the way. Of the four judges, Peichel's marks ranged from a 9.0 to 9.4. Martinson scored a 9.2; Emily Martinson, Perham's second seventh-grader to score, recorded a 9.075; Taylor Stammen's 8.475 routine was Perham's fourth score on the floor. Justine Meyer ran into difficulty landing a tumbling run and scored an 8.45.
The Yellowjackets finished on vault scoring 35.3 as a team, led by a 9.175 from Jordan Martinson and Justine Meyer's 9.0. The freshman duo will compete in Saturday's Individual All-Around competition.
According to Fleck, Meyer's two mishaps may have cost Perham a point in the final standings. In a sport where perfection is quested after, there is no room for error, but always a quick pace to redemption. The Individual Championships will be a perfect place for Meyer to rebound a day after the team finals. Given recent history, that will come to fruition Saturday afternoon.
The fourth place finish was exactly what was expected from Head Coach Charlie Fleck, as he stated in an interview before the meet.
"We can't complain," said Assistant Coach Matt Horner. "We can get back a couple girls, who are injured, and we have a couple sixth graders coming up."
Perham may improve next year by adding even younger talent on a team that will have one junior, Peichel.
Of the 78 teams in Class A, only three were better this year than Perham. That is a remarkable achievement for a team that is both young and shorthanded.
Perham's best gymnast, according to the coaching staff, is Breitenfeldt and she was limited to uneven bars only, after having screws removed from her ankle in January after surgery was required at beginning of the season.
"It still hurts," Breitenfeldt said. "I was out the whole time."
"She's doing well on bars," said Fleck. "We could use her on vault right now and it would raise our score another five to seven tenths. She's a 9.3, 9.4 vaulter. Good on floor too, she's the best tumbler we have."
Having been synonymous with the state meet for 11 years, the Yellowjackets will now prepare for a run at the school's ninth state championship in the coming season and that preparation begins much sooner than one might expect.
"We will probably take about a week off and get back at it," said Peichel.
Not before Saturday's Individual Championships, which begin at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion at 11 a.m.
Perham and Detroit Lakes both have three qualifiers, all underclassmen, along with Little Falls junior Rachelle LeBlanc, the Section 8A all-around champion. Jordan Martinson, Justine Meyer, DL's Molly Lyngaas and LeBlanc will all compete in the all-around.
Peichel will compete on bars. DL's Johanna Jernberg will compete on floor and fellow Laker Allison Berg will compete on vault.
Defending champion Melrose Area followed the 2012 runner-up New Prague on each event in Friday's team championship. New Prague, however, posted the meet's high score on three of four events en route to the title. On their final event, the Trojans hit each of their beam routines to break the Class A balance beam record with a 37.90. The previous Class A balance beam record was 37.80, set by Perham in 2005.
New Prague was runner-up to Perham in 2005, the Yellowjacket team that featured Miranda Schmitz (9.525), Betsy Mann (9.475), Kourtney Johnston and Alli Hull (9.4), along with Ashley Brasel (9.325) on the record-breaking beam and state championship team.
The Trojans rebounded from a challenging season, making them one of the crowd favorites. Their head coach and longtime New Prague teacher, Matt Shetka, passed away on Dec. 9 after an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow. Assistant coach Doug Amundsen took over head coaching duties, assisted by Nikki Fischer, to lead the Trojans through their season.
Starting on floor exercise, New Prague scored a 37.625 led by junior Sarah Hoffman's 9.45. The range of scores that count toward the team total was slim, with the lowest scores of 9.375. Melrose Area followed the Trojans on floor and scored a 37.450. The Trojans' second event was vault. They scored a 37.70 led by Hoffman's 9.525. The Trojans held a lead of .60 after two events. Senior Jessica Niedermayer posted the team's high score on uneven bars, 9.375, toward the team's total of 36.375. They extended their lead to .825 going into their final event, beam. Individual scores of 9.40, 9.45, 9.50, and 9.55 contributed to their 37.90. After balance beam, the Trojans were essentially too far to catch for their competitors.
Leading the Melrose Area Dutchmen to their second-place trophy and score of 147.90 was sophomore Lydia Butkowski and junior Jailyn Brinkman. Butkowski's 9.45 and 9.50 led the team on vault and floor, respectively. Brinkman's 9.725 and 9.65 were the team's high scores on bars and floor.
Third place went to Austin, with a 146.425. The Packers posted the meet's high score on floor exercise, 38.175. Junior Sela Fadness led the team on each event.
Class A meet attendance was 1141.
A portion of this story was provided by the Minnesota State High School League tournament staff writers.
Saturday - Justine Meyer scored a 9.075 and a big 9.5 on balance beam to finish 17th in the all-round individual championships. Meyer's beam performance was good for fourth place in that event.
Junior Sela Fadness, of Austin, was this year's all-around champion. Briquelle Browden, a senior from Alexandria was the runner-up.
Perham's Jordan Martinson completed only two events during the individual competition after taking a fall off uneven bars. While releasing to dismount the bar, Martinson landed atop the bar and was down on the mat for a few minutes. She walked off under her own power but did not compete on balance beam or floor exercise.
Alexis Peichel competed on bars and finished 18th with a score of 8.85.