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Austin sets sights on first state team title

February 24, 2017 GMT

The Austin Packers will enter Friday’s Class A team gymnastics state finals with experience on their side. Austin has claimed the last six Section 1A team titles and will be led by defending state all-around champion Maddie Mullenbach and Jennifer Boyle, who turned in an eye-popping performance on Saturday to win the section all-around title.

But Austin head coach Matt Schmit admits that his squad will face some tough odds as it attempts to claim its first team gymnastics title.

“Detroit Lakes (the defending champion in Class A) is averaging a team score of 150, even 151,” Schmit said after Satuday’s section win. “Melrose is second in the state right now, and they’re averaging close to 149. They’re throwing out some really big numbers, and they’ve consistently done that.”

Austin posted a team score of 148.075 in the Section 1A meet, but had been averaging scores in the mid-140s for much of the season. The Packers will need strong performances from throughout its lineup if Austin is to win the state crown, but Schmit said the squad’s approach won’t change.

“We’ll take the same approach that we have with every meet,” he said. “You can only control what you can control, and you can’t control the other teams. They’re going to throw what they have. We just have to control ourselves emotionally, just keep it in check and stay focused and do the best that we can, then let the judges do what they do.”

Boyle and Mullenbach also will compete in Saturday’s individual championships, having qualified in all four events — vault, beam, bars and floor — plus the all-around. Their teammate, Paige Raymond, also qualified in bars and the all-around.

Pine Island, which finished second in Saturday’s team competition, will send three gymnasts to the state individual meet. Eighth-grader Jaci Newman will compete in vault; junior Brynn Olson will compete in floor; and eighth-grader Sawyer Gorman will compete in floor, vault and the all-around.

Olson and Gorman will have experience on their side, and Pine Island coach Chris Templeton said that should help them — as will having teammates to lean on. “In high school gymnastics, you never compete in an arena the size of the U of M Sports Pavilion,” he said. “Throw in the size of the crowd and it can be a little intimidating the first time you compete there. Having been there before, you know what to expect. Brynn and Sawyer went though that experience by themselves the first time they qualified to state. It will be nice for Jaci to have two of her teammates there when she experiences it for the first time.”

This will be the last time Pine Island’s gymnasts will square off against Austin seniors Mullenbach and Paige Raymond, but Templeton wasn’t ready to predict that his squad will unseat the perennial Section 1 powerhouse next year.

“You never know who might be coming into other team’s program,” he said. “Unlike other sports, you could have young gymnasts competing at the club level who come out and make an instant impact for your program. That was the case for us last season, when I had four seventh graders come out of KAATS that pushed our team scores up 10 points. I do know our girls are excited to get back in the gym this summer to improve their skill set, especially on bars.”

In the Class AA individual meet, Rochester qualified one gymnast. Century junior Maddie Rashid will compete on the balance beam after finishing third in the Section 1AA meet in Owatonna on Friday.

Her highest score on the beam this year was a 9.7, and if she can repeat that performance, she could be at or near the top of the podium.