January 14, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.
They were fairly unknown going into the state tournament last year when they finished in fifth place. This year, North Branch will be on everyone’s radar as they are hanging up 135-plus scores in the middle of the season, despite the adjustment to some new judging this year and missing one of their top all-around gymnasts in Lexi Olson.
Only Betsy Howerton of Chisago Lakes was able to stop North Branch from sweeping the top three places in all four events when the county rivals took to the mats Tuesday, January 6.
North Branch ended up winning 135.130-121.95.
“We are again having a great season,” North Branch Head Coach Barb Burdick said. “We have overcome a few challenges, but are on the way to another great year!”
The teams opened on the vault and North Branch had some impressive techniques as they rode Mikayla Johnson, Katy Trunk and Keeley Ertl to a high score.
Chisago Lakes’ top vault scorer was Emily Aiple, who finished in fifth place overall, but Head Coach Kristin Johnson is excited about the direction the ‘Cats vaults are headed in.
She stated, “Our vaulting scores were great! We have been working on increasing our difficulty and it is showing.” She said. “For the first time, we were able to count four scores above an eight. We hope to continue this trend and keep building our vaulting skills.”
On the uneven bars, the Lady Vikings continued to stretch their lead as Trunk and Annie Gladitsch secured the top two spots in the meet with Howerton finishing in third. Johnson came in fourth in the event to keep piling on the lead.
On the balance beam, things continued on a roll for North Branch. Trunk won the event, and Howerton did finish second, securing CL’s highest finish of the night. Johnson and Ertl finished in third and fourth in the event.
On the floor exercise, it was another clean sweep for NB. Trunk, Ertl and Gladitsch finished one-two-three to put a stamp on the big win for North Branch.
Izzy Hindt and Betsy Howerton finished fourth and fifth for the Wildcats.
In the all-around, the Vikings finished in the top three spots. Trunk ran away with the meet, finishing with 36.175. Ertl was second with a score of 33.20 and Johnson finished in third with a composite score of 32.925.
Howerton came in fourth in the all-around, scoring a 32.8 and just missing out on a top three place. Hindt had a career-best 31.85 in the all-around.
Johnson lamented about some of the Wildcats struggles after the match.
“Bars continues to plague us. We plan to work at increasing endurance, skills, and most importantly, staying on the bars,” she said of the difficult event. “We also have the highest potential score on beam, but are having difficult sticking routines.
Potentially, we could have a couple nines and a few eights on this event, but the girls need to focus on sticking their routines. The skills are there, but the numbers of sticks are not.”
But, that doesn’t mean Johnson doesn’t see the potential in the girls. “The girls are really working new skills and combinations to increase their score potential. Now, it's just a numbers game in order to gain the endurance and confidence to perform them.”
Both teams traveled over last weekend to large tournaments.
The Wildcats placed fourth at the Big Lake Invite, finishing just .3 points behind Annandale. Aiple had an outstanding meet, finishing with a 33.65 all-around score, which earned her a fifth place finish.
“We are very excited with how this meet went. We had implemented a new practice plan throughout the week and it showed in our scores. Our team score went up about six points while missing Izzy Hindt, who was out with an injury, and Maddie Audette,” Johnson said.
“The girls really worked together and everyone stepped up their game. We had way less falls and many more skills performed, many of which were put in routines during warm ups. We took some risks and are happy that they paid off.”
The Vikings headed west also, to the Princeton Invite. They took third out of seven teams at the invite, but it included Detroit Lakes, the number one team in the state, regardless of class and Perham, the fourth ranked team in Class A.
Trunk finished second in the all-around in the stacked event.