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Perham Gymnasts win 6th State Championship

The Perham gymnastics team won their 6th-straight Class A State Championship Thursday in Minneapolis. Team members include (l-r): Satera Montella, Whitney Bormann, Kelsi Vomacka, Mikaela Eickschen, Miriah Eickschen, Jenna Schmitz, Carly Petersen and Nikki Stoering.

By John George

How do you improve on winning five-straight State Championships?

Well, winning a sixth title is a good starting point. Which is exactly what the Perham gymnastics team did Thursday afternoon at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

But for the Yellowjackets, this sixth title was an improvement on their previous championships because of how they did it, who they did it with.

Perham had four regulars return from last years team. But it was a pair of seventh graders, and two of the less experienced veterans of the team that put them over the top.

The Jackets scored a 149.25, their third highest point total out of their six championships. And they couldn't have hit that score without a group of youngsters.

"I think the most gratifying thing this year is we did something everyone thought we couldn't do," said head coach Charlie Fleck. "Win again with a young team."

Perham's core, junior Jenna Schmitz, and sophomores Kelsi Vomacka, Mikaela Eickschen were solid, as usual, as was Carly Petersen. Petersen is also a sophomore, but has only been in gymnastics for three years.

The difference makers were freshman Satera Montella, eighth grader Nikki Stoering, and two seventh graders, Whitney Bormann and Miriah Eickschen. Montella competed at State last year for the team on the balance beam. Stoering, and obviously Eickschen and Bormann, had never competed at State.

"You can't say enough about our young kids," Fleck said. "That's how you build programs. Getting young kids like that who can step in when you ask them to and they come through."

Vomacka, the team's high scorer on the day with an All-Around score of 38.375, was very impressed with the youngsters.

"Those girls (Whitney, Miriah) are amazing," she said. "They wow me every time. Miriah's beam was phenomenal. And Whitney really came through for us with her floor. Nikki was solid in her events too. I was so happy for them."

Even the more experienced members were nervous heading into State this year. They knew their first two rotations, the uneven bars, and the balance beam, were not their strongest events. They went without any major mistakes in their first event and finished with a respectable score of 36.375 on the bars.

They moved to the beam, and the first up was Miriah Eickschen. She didn't compete in the Section 8A Meet in Park Rapids last week. And she wasn't told she'd be in the line-up at State until Wednesday.

"It was nerve-wracking, but it was a lot of fun to get out there," Eickschen said. "It took a while (before it set it in Wednesday when she found out she'd be competing). Maybe like five minutes. Then I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm actually going to be out there.' I was nervous (approaching the beam). But once I hit my first move, I was fine."

Not only was she fine, she had what she called her best routine on the beam and scored a 9.375. She was even surprised by how well she did.

The Jackets scored a 37.40, not bad for a group that felt beam wasn't one of their best events.

"After that we felt pretty good," Schmitz said. "Everyone pretty much hit on those events (bars, beam), so we were able to say, 'Hey, these next two events are our best, so lets go out and hit them.'"

Up next was the floor exercise and it was Bormann's time to shine. Her score of 9.2 helped the Jackets to a score of 37.725.

"I just told myself I was going to have fun," Bormann said. "And it was State, so I needed to do my best."

That wouldn't be hard for her, since earlier his season she set a school mark for seventh graders on the floor. And with the history of good young gymnasts that have gone through the program, that's saying something.

"About 15 minutes before my routine I started getting a little nervous," Bormann said. "I wasn't too bad all day, but just before going out I got really nervous.

"I think the team was doing well, so it made it easier for me to just go out and do the best I could," she continued. "Thankfully I did O.K."

Heading into the final rotation, Perham had a full two-point lead, a big margin when scoring by tenth's of a point. They put the finishing touch on their sixth title with a team score of 37.750.

When the final scores were tallied, Perham nearly had a four-point cushion over the second place team, Mound-Westonka (149.25-145.30).

"This is more satisfying than the previous titles," Schmitz said. "Because we were able to get our highest score all year here at State. That feels pretty good. This is the place to have your best day."

Their previous high this season was a 148.55 at the Princeton Invitational on Jan. 17.

"It sure is a good time to come through and do what you need to do," Fleck said. "You always aim to have your best meet here, and these girls did that today."

"It feels great," Vomacka said. "This was the best year ever, I think. We didn't have the experience that we normally have had, and we've worked twice as hard as we normally do. It's very rewarding."

"This is probably the most gratifying except for our first one," Fleck said. "We had so many new kids and we graduated an outstanding gymnast like Miranda Schmitz, who competed in six State Meets. It makes this one very special."

Despite the newcomers stepping in, Fleck said the team's chemistry was a key.

"They kind of fit together," he said. "They all work together, they all get along. And that means a lot when we go into practice each day. We are young (no seniors, and only one junior, Schmitz). But our core was still there. Kelsi is a leader by example. Jenna is more of our spiritual leader, or cheerleader, so to speak. And boy, did they come through today. It starts at the top and our experienced girls set the example today."

With six championships under their belt, the Jackets have some built in motivation to go for a seventh next year. One more title would tie them with Mahtomedi for the longest consecutive State Championship streak in gymnastics. Mahtomedi won seven Class A crowns in a row from 1987-1993.

"I did not know that (the record for consecutive state titles)," Vomacka said. "That's a great goal to have. We're always looking for stuff to motivate us. We have to work hard and stay humble with stuff like this. We can't take this (state titles) for granted."

The girls, or Fleck, don't worry about, or think about, their State title streak ending.

"We don't talk like that (being the squad that doesn't keep the streak going)," Fleck said. "We talk team. We're not worried about winning State titles, We worry about getting better and improving through the end of the season. We talk about the concept of working together. Being together."

Meet Notes

This was the first time the State Meet was held at the U of M's Sports Pavilion. The previous home of the meet was Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul. At Wilkins, the fans were in the upper-deck with the competition held below with no spectators allowed. The Sports Pavilion is more like a traditional gym.

"I think this feels more like a meet than State, because the people are right there," Schmitz said. "We weren't down in 'the pit' like in St. Paul. I think that helped us, having the crowd right there like in all our other meets. The other gym (Wilkins Auditorium) made it more nerve-wracking."

The Class A Individual Meet will be today (Feb. 27) at the Sports Pavilion, starting at 11 a.m. Vomacka is the defending champion on the floor and beam and she finished third in the All-Around last year.