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Gymnastics: Two Trojans, two Huskies qualify for state meet

DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Paige Kinley strikes a pose Saturday during the floor exercise at the Section 3A gymnastics meet in Marshall. Kinley, a senior for the Worthington Trojans, qualified individually in three events for the Feb. 21-22 state meet in Minneapolis. 1 / 3
DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Jackson County Central gymnast Bailey Schneekloth (center, sitting) breaks into a wide smile while resting with teammates Saturday between events at the Section 3A gymnastics tournament in Marshall. Schneekloth, a junior, scored a 9.4 to win the balance beam event. 2 / 3
DOUG WOLTER/DAILY GLOBE Worthington freshman Liz Hayenga is the picture of concentration on the balance beam at the Section 3A tournament in Marshall. Hayenga placed third in the event to qualify for the state meet. 3 / 3

MARSHALL — Two Worthington Trojans and two Jackson County Central Huskies will compete in the state gymnastics tournament, and both teams will send a section champion.

Martin County Area, buoyed by the return of a team leader who’d been injured for most of the winter season, will send its entire team.

For Trojans Paige Kinley and Liz Hayenga and Huskies Bailey Schneekloth and Brooklyn Schuett, Saturday’s Section 3A tournament at Marshall High School reflected individual glory. Team glory, however, fell to the Martin County Area Magic, who eclipsed the field with a score of 140.65 points. Jackson County Central placed second with 137.925 while Worthington — which defeated both MCA and JCC during the regular season and entered the tournament Saturday with a perfect 12-0 record — finished third with 137.375 points. Hendricks/Russell-Tyler-Ruthton was fourth with 131.975, followed by Windom/Mountain Lake 130.675, Luverne 126.4, Pipestone Area 118.025, Marshall 115.875, Redwood Valley 112.525, and St. James with 101.525.

Timing benefitted the Magic greatly. Their outstanding senior tumbler, Rebecca Steen, missed most of the 2013-14 season due to an injury she sustained prior to Christmas. The Section 3A meet marked her return, and she responded by winning the vaulting competition (with a 9.3 score) and placing third in both the uneven parallel bars (8.875) and floor exercise (9.175).

The top team and the top four individuals from the section meet qualify for state competition Feb. 21-22 at University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

Though Worthington’s dream of getting to state as a team was dashed Saturday, the Trojans turned in many fine individual performances.

Kinley, the team’s only senior and a state qualifier last season on the balance beam and floor exercise, won the floor exercise this time (she was third in the event in the 2013 section meet) with a 9.2 score. Kinley placed third Saturday in the vault (9.1) and fourth on the bars (8.875) while finishing fifth in the all-around with a 34.875 total.

Hayenga was third on the balance beam with an 8.95 — enough to qualify the freshman for state for the first time.

Hayenga also got a sixth on the vault (8.9). Teammate Taylor Eggers, just a seventh-grader, finished fifth on the vault (8.95) and was sixth in the all-around (34.45). JCC’s Brielle Scheepstra was fifth on beam with 8.725 and fifth on the floor with 9.1. Luverne’s Madison Schandelmeier finished sixth on the bars with an 8.3.

Kinley’s personal goal going into the meet was to place high enough to enter state as an all-arounder. But she struggled on the balance beam — Worthington’s first event.

“First off, it was really shaky,” Kinley said after the meet. “I fell off twice on the beam. I thought I pulled it together when I went on the floor (the next event for WHS) and I did OK the rest of the way.

“Gymnastics is all mental anyway. You gotta be mentally strong to succeed,” Kinley added.

Hayenga said she was surprised that she did well enough to qualify for state.

“I’m really excited,” she explained afterward. I just went into the meet trying to do my best and stay confident.”

Worthington head coach Joni Reitmeier was pleased for both her state qualifiers — one who will cap off an outstanding career as a senior and another who is still learning just how good she can be.

“Liz is a very calm, laid-back type kid,” she remarked about Hayenga. “Sometimes Lizzie underestimates her abilities. She is SO deserving of this.”

As for the team championship, Martin County Area began to fully grasp its destiny in its third event, the vault. Numerous Magic performers achieved good scores and they were energized by a large and vocal MCA cheering section. While the Magic stuck the vault, Worthington took its turn on its last event — the bars. When Kinley stuck her landing, she gritted her teeth in joy and received enthusiastic hugs from her teammates. The Trojans might have believed at that point that they still had a chance to pull out a team victory. But when the Magic performed well on their last event — the bars — JCC and Worthington were left alone to fight for runner-up status.

Schneekloth’s individual victory on the balance beam gave the JCC junior her first individual state tourney berth (JCC won the Section 3A meet as a team last year).

“It takes a lot of preparation in practice,” a smiling Schneekloth explained the unique difficulty of the narrow beam. “You just gotta go up there feeling confident and that you’re going to nail it.

“When you’re working on four inches, you have to practice a lot,” she added. “It really helps that I only work on two events (including bars) because I have a bad back. I’ve had that since my freshman year. … It feels like all my hard work has finally paid off.”

Finally, Saturday was not one of Worthington’s best days as a team. But gymnastics is also an individual sport, and Reitmeier focused on that after the results were announced and all the medals dispersed.

“We wish the outcome was different. Gymnastics is just one of those things, it just has to be your day, and unfortunately we just had too many mishaps,” she said.

But she also looked back on the team’s 12-0 regular season record in calling 2013-14 “the best year ever.” A section championship, she sighed, “just would’ve been the icing on the cake.”

Following are the scores of Section 3A qualifiers:

Bars — 1. Bryanna Peterson (MCA) 9.25; 2. Hailey Teske (H/RTR) 9.05. 3. Rebecca Steen (MCA) 8.875. 4. Paige Kinley (W) 8.875.

Beam — 1. Bailey Schneekloth (JCC) 9.4. 2. Bryanna Peterson (MCA) 9.35. 3. Liz Hayenga (W) 8.95. 4. Hailey Teske (H/RTR) 8.75.

Vault — 1. Rebecca Steen (MCA) 9.3. 2. Martha Olson (MCA) 9.225. 3. Paige Kinley (W) 9.1. 4. Greta Johnson (H/RTR) 9.05.

Floor — 1. Paige Kinley (W) 9.2. 2. Brooklyn Schuett (JCC) 9.175. 3. Rebecca Steen (MCA) 9.175. 4. Greta Johnson (H/RTR) 9.15.

All-around — 1. Bryanna Peterson (MCA) 36.475. 2. Rebecca Steen (MCA) 36.05. 3. Hailey Teske (H/RTR) 35.775. 4. Greta Johnson (H/RTR) 34.95.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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