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All gain, never mind the pain

L-R: Carly Petersen, Mikaela Eickschen and Kelsi Vomacka, three seniors, are the backbone of the Perham gymnastics team seeking their eighth straight state championship.1 / 6
Petersen, Eickschen and Vomacka have flexed their muscles to victories at each meet this season maintaining the number one state ranking all year.2 / 6
Five seniors were honored before the meet with Detroit Lakes. L-R: Mikaela Eickschen, Bre Halbur, Kelsi Vomacka, Amy Crawford and Carly Petersen. Halbur and Crawford are the two seniors on the Lakers' squad.3 / 6
Perham Athletic Director Fred Sailer, right, presents Perham Head Coach Charlie Fleck a plaque from the Minnesota Gymnastics Coaches Association given in recognition as the coach of the 2010 state team championship.4 / 6
Carly Petersen performs on beam versus Detroit Lakes. She was awarded a 9.125.5 / 6
Kelsi Vomacka prepares to land her vault. She won the event handily with a 9.725.6 / 6

Winning state championships in gymnastics seven consecutive years seems improbable but it is a stark reality for three seniors chasing the eighth.

Kelsi Vomacka, Mikaela Eickschen and Carly Petersen spearhead a young team and lead by example. This year, they are in charge.

"We have a lot more responsibility and control over the team. We have to be leaders 100 percent of the time," Vomacka said.

Vomacka has been part of three state championships. Eickschen was victorious last season and Petersen looks to get to the podium for the first time.

Aside from these three seniors, the Perham gymnastics team is comprised of one junior, Satera Montella, a sophomore, Nikki Stoering, an eighth grader Alexis Peichel and six seventh graders.

Part of the trio's jobs, apart from routinely accumulating the necessary points to win, which they have done in every meet this year, is a particular mindset necessary to keep them going and to drive the future gymnasts who may be charged with bringing back to Perham the ninth straight championship.

"It's all about determination and dedication and we want it and won't let anyone take it from us," Vomacka said.

That mindset and even verbiage comes straight from the man in charge, Head Coach Charlie Fleck. Fleck, now 40 years into coaching gymnastics is the reason Perham has a gymnastics program.

Fleck opened club gymnastics in Perham in 1998 and the sport was approved by the school district in 2002. Their first state appearance in 2003 yielded a sixth place finish. The next year, the string of state championships began.

"All caps, tough love," is how Eickschen describes Fleck's approach to the sport. "He really pushes you to be the best."

That is what the team centered around this trio has been. Their last loss came at the beginning of the 2009 season in Perham at the Jackie Mann Invitational. The majority of their meets this year have not been close.

Excuses are out when it comes to results or just performing for Coach Fleck.

"With Perham gymnastics we compete even if we're hurt, unless you're in a cast," Petersen said. "That's Charlie."

This mindset works well for the three seniors and they are quick to impart this knowledge on those coming up behind them and acknowledge the importance of their team mentality. To take another state championship this year, it is not all about them.

"Some people need to step it up," Vomacka said.

"We need a fourth score," Eickschen said.

The top four scores count of the five gymnasts participating at state for total points.

That fourth score is likely in the hands of Montella.

While this year's squad lacks much of the depth as has appeared in Yellowjacket colors in the past, this three-pack has a collection of accolades that make them appear more than three people on paper, especially Vomacka, the obvious leader of the team.

Vomacka is a three-time state individual champion. She has 14 state medals and is a four-time all-state elite member. Eickschen was all-state elite last season. Peterson was the state vault champion last year.

For Perham to repeat as champions, it is imperative, mandatory, that these girls put up the numbers each and every meet to the state championship. There is little margin for error.

"You also have pressure from your teammates," Eickschen said. "I competed all around last weekend and my theme is put up and shut up. Without my scores, we would have lost."

Eickschen, or Iggie, a nickname Fleck gave her in third grade that has stuck like a perfect dismount, has been competing with a strain and sprain in her hip this season.

"We all know you're hurting," Petersen said.

But that is about as far as it goes in discussing any pain associated with the many gains this team has made and will make later in the season.

"Suck it up and ice," Vomacka laughed.

Injuries have played more of a part with the competition. An outstanding Detroit Lakes squad, which looked to challenge Perham heavily pre-season has been decimated by injury and have been forced to promote junior varsity members to the varsity squad.

"They have a lot of injured people," Vomacka said. "Last year was a bigger competition between us."

The competition will only get tougher from here on out and the girls have a tight-knit group of supporters whom they rely upon as the tension and expectations rise.

Fleck's daughter, Heidi, head of American Gold Gymnastics in Fargo frequents practices to share her expertise.

"She pushes us hard and that's what we need," Petersen said.

Assistant Coach Matt Horner was tops on the list of those mentioned.

"He's our spine right now," Vomacka said to agreement in unison from all three. "He keeps this whole team together."

Horner is renowned for keeping the girls focused and down to earth with one-liners like, "Better pop your head you're getting a big ego."

"Kelsi is my gymnastics hero," Petersen said.

"She tells me that every time," Vomacka laughed.

It's hard not to have a big ego winning all the time.

The girls have a tight support system at home. Their respective parents are all close and keep an eye on how the three approach dealing with continual success.

"We have tried and also encouraged (them) to always be humble with the accolades and attention received with all the success over the years," Kelsi's mother Julie Vomacka said.

"We're like that perfect family," Petersen said.

"They give up a lot time," Eickschen said.

Much of that is spent in travel. The State True Team meet was held in Fairmont, Minn., six hours away near the Iowa border.

"They were there," Eickschen said.

Contrary to the love and support from friends, family and each other, there are different angles from competitors the three gymnasts have seen come with their success.

"There are so many who would like to see us lose," Vomacka said. "We go to state and there are stink eyes everywhere."

Rightfully so, with some competitors, as for seven years, the Yellowjacket gymnastics team has ruined any hope for another 1A school to leave the state meet victorious. That will attract detractors, but it also demands respect.

In Pat Miller's recent story in the Bemidji Pioneer, Miller gathered that respect from the Lumberjack gymnasts who went down in defeat to the Yellowjackets but did so in awe of the dynasty Vomacka, Eickschen and Petersen are now charged to continue.

"It's fun to compete against a team that is that good," said Bemidji gymnast Katie Jensen "We know we are not as good as they are but this is an opportunity for us to see the skills that they have and to see the things they can do in a routine. And, after watching them, we now have something more to shoot for."

That target is the state championship, obviously. Vomacka related a tale from last year's title, post-meet, when the girls were surrounded by the press long enough to interrupt the warm-ups of the 2A state meet which followed their win. The girls were still on the floor answering questions from the media to the bellowing of members of the 2A schools, "Get out of here, Perham!"

To which, Eickschen had one simple answer.

"We own this place."

They really do.

Gymnasts too much for DL

Despite both teams suffering injuries this season, both Perham and Detroit Lakes came into Friday's meet as the number one and six teams ranked in 1A. After Perham's five-point victory, both teams are likely to stay in those positions.

With DL missing two starting gymnasts, senior Bre Halbur and junior Natalie Hoffert and Perham missing senior Mikaela Eickschen, the outcome was uncertain other than a battle for the top spot would be dueled between Perham's leader Kelsi Vomacka and DL senior Amy Crawford.

Eickschen continues to rest a strain and sprain in separate areas of her hip.

Crawford was the gymnast who unseated Vomacka as the Mid-State Conference all-around champion last season. Vomacka entered last year's conference meet as the two-time defending champion and the duo will meet again this Saturday, Feb. 12, at 11 a.m., as the Yellowjackets host the conference meet.

Crawford excels on uneven bars and balance beam, while Vomacka is dangerous in all four events. She proved it taking three of four events. Her lone finish in the pack was a third place on bars; she scored a 9.0. Crawford took the bars with a 9.6.

Vomacka continues to score over 38 points per meet, flirting with perfection on her three strongest events each time out.

The duo were separated by only 0.25 points on beam, but Vomacka sealed her individual victory on floor and vault, where nobody came close to her 9.70 floor routine and 9.725 vault.

"If we can get our uneven bars to balance it out we really have a chance at going a long way," Head Coach Charlie Fleck said.

The absence of Eickschen put extra pressure on Carly Petersen, who finished right behind Vomacka and Crawford in third place all-around.

Petersen's 9.50 on vault early in the meet, was her highest score, to go with 9.20 and 9.125 on bars and beam. She posted an 8.850 on floor exercise.

More pressure was put on Satera Montella, who has been the benefactor of having three seniors in front of her. But at this meet, she had to step up and she did with a strong fourth-place all-around performance.

Montella was second on floor behind only Vomacka with a score of 9.25. A fourth place finish on beam and vault put Montella in solid position. She finished eighth on bars.

Seventh-grader Jordan Martinson showed promise for the already bright Perham gymnastics future as she place sixth all-around, along with Justine Meyer, another seventh-grader, who finished just behind Martinson.

In a true sign the post-season is approaching quickly, Fleck was presented a plaque from the Minnesota Gymnastics Coaches Association before the meet, by Perham Athletic Director Fred Sailer, given in recognition as the coach of the 2010 state team champions.

No.1 Perham 145.675,

No. 6 Detroit Lakes 140.30.

All Around

1. 38.100 Kelsi Vomacka V-9.725 UB-9.000 BB-9.675 FX-9.700

2. 37.850 Amy Crawford 9.550 9.600 9.650 9.050

3. 36.67 Carly Petersen 9.500 9.200 9.125 8.850

4. 35.850 Satera Montella 9.300 8.150 9.150 9.250

5. 34.875 Jordyn Peterson 8.500 8.400 9.075 8.900

6. 34.850 Jordan Martinson 9.200 8.450 8.450 8.750

7. 33.350 Justine Meyer 8.550 8.300 8.500 8.000

8. 30.85 Allison Berg 9.050 6.450 8.250 7.100

9. 25.000 Madeline Hoffert 8.500 0.000 7.800 8.700

10. 18.225 Jessica Stelter 0.000 8.950 9.275 0.000

Robert Williams

Sports Editor at the Detroit Lakes Tribune. Williams worked prior as the Sports Editor in Perham for the Focus, a Forum Communications newspaper, from 2010-14. 

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