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Eight is great; seven will be heaven

Carly Petersen goes flying towards the vault on her second attempt at the Section 8A Championship Meet in Perham on Saturday. Petersen earned her first section title by winning the vault with a score of 9.8.1 / 2
Kelsi Vomacka gets a hug from Carly Petersen, Mikaela Eickschen and Jenna Schmitz after her balance beam routine.2 / 2

Old-timers like me can remember back to Monday Night Football, and "Dandy" Don Meredith singing his tune after the end of the game.

"Turn out the lights, the party's over," he'd belt out with his Texas twang.

The performance by the Yellowjacket gymnastics team in front of their home crowd in the Section 8A Championship Meet at Prairie Wind Gymnasium Saturday afternoon had head coach Charlie Fleck singing the same tune.

After the first three gymnasts finished their balance beam routine, the final event for Perham, Fleck wandered over, smiling ear to ear, singing (or at least trying to sing) Dandy Don's closeing hymn.

The party was over. Or in some sense, it was just beginning. Perham was solid in all four events, and scored above a 150 for the seventh time this season as they won their eighth-straight Section 8A championship. Their score of 151.650, was three full points ahead of second place Detroit Lakes (148.575).

Perham will be looking for a record tying seventh State Championship in a row when they defend their title at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. Team competition is Feb. 26 at 11 a.m. Individual competition will be Feb. 27, also at 11 a.m.

Mahtomedi is the current record holder in gymnastics, winning seven-straight titles from 1987-1993.

"This one was won in the practice room," Fleck said. "This team has worked very hard for this title. Grace, skill, commitment, and courage. That's what this team is about."

This team is also about togetherness and selflessness. They put individual goals aside and banded together to insure team success.

"This is the most proud I've ever been of the team," said the lone senior, Jenna Schmitz. "Everybody worked so hard. Nobody was worried about individual stuff. It was all about team today."

Schmitz recorded a career high in the All-Around with a 38.125, which was good for second place. She will get a chance to defend her State Championship on the uneven bars, as she finished second at sections.

The Yellowjacket senior has now been a part of six Mid-State Conference titles with five All-Conference honors, and six Section championships in her career. She will be looking to add a sixth State title to her trophy case next week.

"If we work like we've been working all year, anything is possible," she said.

Two Perham gymnasts won section titles for the first time.

Mikaela Eickschen scored a 9.7 in her first event, the floor exercise, which held up the rest of the afternoon for a 8A crown.

"I've worked really hard for this. I'm really happy I've finally won one (a section title)," Eickschen said. "When you do really good on your first event, it gets you going through the whole meet."

She also qualified for State individually on the balance beam, finishing fourth on Saturday.

Eickschen echoed Schmitz in her assessment of the team.

"We're really close," she said. "We worked hard on consistency and getting new skills. The team always came first."

Also winning her first individual title was Carly Petersen. She took the title on the vault with a 9.8. Fleck has said for the last two years, that Petersen's vault, when she hits it, is one of the best in the State.

"It was amazing," Petersen said. "I'm so excited that I hit it."

She didn't follow the usual script with her vault. First of all, she didn't land the first of her two attempts.

"I was nervous after my first one, because I've never missed my first, then made my second," she said. "So I was like, 'I've got to do this for the team. I've got to hit it.'"

She did. And the home crowd erupted. But it wasn't a totally clean attempt, despite her 9.8 score.

"I stutter stepped approaching the tramp," Petersen said. "I didn't go in with full strides. Then I hit it (the vault) crooked. So I was thinking, 'Oh Boy. I hope I make this.'"

Perham made it three-for-four in individual championships, as Kelsi Vomacka won her fourth 8A crown on the balance beam with a 9.75. She is the two-time defending State champion on the beam as well.

Vomacka also finished third in the All-Around to advance to State. She has finished as the Class A All-Around runner-up the last two years.

The Lakers Amy Crawford was the 8A All-Around champ with a 38.4, breaking a string of four-straight AA titles won by Perham gymnasts. Crawford was also the uneven bar champ, the first non-Jacket to win that event since 2005.

But the Jackets aren't concerned with the individual honors. The only one they are concerned with is the big prize. Another State title.

"We worked a lot better as a team this year," Petersen said. "Sections was about the team. Not about individuals. I think that will help us next week."

And they have full knowledge of their potential impact on history.

"Tying the most consecutive state championships would be really cool,' Eickschen said. "Really cool."