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CALEB NELSON/DAILY GLOBE Returning letterwinners to this winter’s Worthington gymnastics team include, from left: Paige Kinley, Liz Hayenga, Maria Contreras and Whitney Jensen. The team begins its season on the road Tuesday against Blue Earth.

Prep gymnastics: Trojans young, talented

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WORTHINGTON — Featuring a large group of youngsters who will back up their lone senior in Paige Kinley, the Worthington Trojans gymnastics team is working toward another strong winter of competition.

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The team began practice at the local armory on Nov. 11. Their first competition is Tuesday on the road against Blue Earth. The team is slated to face three opponents in nine days to start things off.

“I graduated some very good seniors, so I have a young group of girls this year,” Trojans gymnastics coach Joni Reitmeier said. “They definitely have some big shoes to fill, but I think they will do a good job.”

This year’s team will be charged with replacing three solid seniors from a year ago in Anna Koepsell, Tara Svalland and Stephanie Jaycox. The Trojans finished 9-3 in regular season dual meets and finished second in the Southwest Conference to Jackson County Central, a perennial power in the league. Worthington’s only loss in league contention was to the Huskies.

Worthington returns four letter winners, including Kinley, junior Whitney Jensen, eighth-grader Maria Contreras and freshman Liz Hayenga. All four gymnasts had strong efforts a year ago.

Kinley placed 17th on the balance beam at the state gymnastics meet last year with a score of 9.075. She scored an 8.875 to place 25th in the floor exercise. She will be an all-around competitor for the team this year.

“I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was four,” Kinley said. “I like how it is an individual sport but is also a team sport. You get really close with all of the girls on the team.

“To do well, you have to be really determined and have to have your mental game on,” Kinley added. “I’m really excited for the season and think we have a good chance at doing really well this year.”

As the season gets under way, all 14 gymnasts on the squad have practiced as all-around athletes, taking part in the sport’s four events, including vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise.

The four events complement each other to make the gymnasts better, Reitmeier believes. She also coaches a youth gymnastics program in Worthington, home to 29 young gymnasts who are developing their skills.

“I have a good and upcoming program that feeds into my high school program,” Reitmeier explained. “Next year we’ll bring in nine from that program, so our high school program is looking strong for the future.”

It is better to live in the present, however, and the Trojans have plenty to be thankful for as the season begins. Tuesday will tell more of the story as to how the team will stack up.

“All four letterwinners I bring back are all-arounders. I bring back four strong all-arounders,” Reitmeier said. “We have a strong young team. It’s a matter of getting those nerves out. When you’ve not competed at the varsity level before, it’s hard. We’ll have to see how the girls do under that presusure that they won’t be used to yet.”

Here’s a quick glance at some of the other varsity gym teams in the area:

Jackson County Central enters its 2013-14 gymnastics season poised to defend its conference championship and trip to state from last year. The Huskies finished sixth last year at the Class A state meet, held at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavillion.

The Huskies finished well in the vault at state, taking fourth place. They finished fifth in the floor exercise, sixth in the balance beam and sixth on the uneven bars. The Huskies are young, touting no seniors and three juniors for this year’s team.

JCC has three sophomores, two freshmen, three eighth-graders and five seventh-graders out for gymnastics.

JCC’s six returning lette rwinners include Bailey Schneekloth, Riley Schneekloth, Michaela Vancura, Haley Bass, Abby Schneekloth and Brooklyn Schuett.

The Huskies open their season Tuesday night at New Ulm Area to kick off their first year under head coach Dastinee Vancura.

Finishing third in the SWC a year ago behind JCC and Worthington were the Windom/Mountain Lake/Red Rock Central Cobras. The team also finished third in their section meet last season and hopes to ride the leadership of three seniors to even greater successes this year. The group’s seniors include Hannah Kloss, Megan Theesfeld and Miki Bolin.

As the team lost a strong senior class of all-around gymnasts last season, the team’s three seniors and a group of newcomers will have their work cut out for them. Cobras coach Cheryl Bass reported this week that sophomores Amy Muller and Tara Fast, as well as seventh-grader Mareah Carlson, have all impressed her as newcomers in practice thus far. The team travels to St. James on Friday, Dec. 6.

Luverne begins its season Tuesday when it hosts Martin County West/Fairmont Area. The Cardinals have four juniors and one sophomore listed on their roster for the upcoming season and seven freshmen, three eighth-graders and five seventh graders.

The season for Pipestone Area gets underway Tuesday when the Arrows travel for a non-conference dual meet at Hendricks. The Arrows bring two seniors and two juniors as team leaders for this winter, including seniors Becca Griebel and Nicole Scotting and juniors Alex Wilson and Jessalyn Hahn. The Arrows took eighth out of 10 teams last year at the Section 3A meet in Jackson.

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Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson is the Daily Globe sports writer. He hails from southwest Iowa and served as sports editor at the Audubon County Advocate Journal there for 2 ½ years before moving to Worthington in October 2013. Caleb trys to enjoy life and everybody that he meets. He enjoys music, playing guitar and drums, and is an avid sports fan. 
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