February 26, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.
The junior won the all around in an absolutely stacked section, and qualified for three out of the four individual events as well.
Elsa Leopold also will make a surprise appearance at the state meet. She has had some very good meets this year, but she seemed to be a long shot to make it in the section that featured six teams ranked in the top 16. But, she defied the odds and will be going to her first career state tourney as a sophomore.
“It is awesome that both Aliah and Elsa made it to the state meet and will be rewarded for how hard they work in the gym,” Head Coach Brett Kjos said. “Making it to state is the hard part. Now we get to have fun. It will be an exciting time.”
Williams finished third on the vault with a 9.45, just one tenth of a point behind winner Abby Weber of Sartell-St. Stephen.
On the uneven bars, Williams won the event out of 29 competitors, finishing ahead of Weber. Williams scored a 9.475 in her victory.
On the balance beam, Williams faltered just a bit, as most of the Wildcats have this year in that event. She still had a strong performance, though, scoring a 9.0 and finishing 10th in the event.
She wrapped up her all around championship with another event victory, winning the floor exercise with a score of 9.625, just edging out her country rival from North Branch and former track and field teammate Keeley Ertl by a five-one hundredths of a second.
Her totals added up to a 37.550 all around score, which was just a hint better than Weber’s 37.475.
Leopold’s state berth came in the uneven bars. She finished in sixth place in the event, claiming the final spot available. She scored an 8.950, which was just ahead of Big Lake’s Avery Huber.
As a team, the Wildcats placed sixth overall with a score of 139.575, which is where they would’ve been seeded heading in. Kjos thought they could move up to third or fourth if they had nailed their routines, but they had some falls on the beam which cost them. “Our total score always comes down to beam,” he said.
Sartell-St. Stephen earned the state tourney berth as a team, scoring a 146.425, just a point ahead of Big Lake’s 145.275.
“Overall, it was a really nice meet by the girls. They performed really well. Savannah Gorski set a new personal record on the vault after missing most of the week due to an illness. Halle Rhein and Lily Grabow stepped up when we needed them. Callie Schlegel did an outstanding job while also missing most of the week due to illness. Ann Nelson did some very nice skills on the beam. Claudia Stipe and Natalie Silver had some of their highest scores on floor this season. Then having both Elsa and Aliah qualify for state was icing on the cake,’ Kjos explained. “It was a total team effort. What a group of extremely talented gymnasts. It’s the best we have had in a long time.”
Kjos himself also got in on the act, as he was named the Section 7A Coach of the Year by his fellow section coaches.
“It’s nice to be recognized, but as many coaches know, surrounding yourself with great assistants and a having great bunch of young women to work with on a daily basis makes coaching very rewarding,” he said. “It has been the greatest season in which I have ever been involved.”
Williams and Leopold will participate in the state tournament at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion on Saturday, February 23 beginning at 11 a.m.
All year, Keeley Ertl was surrounded by injuries to her teammates and tough breaks for the North Branch gymnastics team.
But, she overcame all of the adversity and qualified for the state tournament in the all around and three individual events. It’s her fourth straight state tournament appearance in gymnastics and sixth career including her two trips with the soccer team.
She came through in a big way on three of the four events, with her only struggles coming on balance beam, which she is normally very strong at. “Keeley had big performances on all of the events except beam,” Head Coach Chris Johnson said. “Keeley is a strong multi-sport athlete who is always showing great sportsmanship. It will be an honor to be her coach during her senior year state gymnastics meet.”
Ertl finished in fourth place on the vault with a score of 9.425, and she finished second in the floor exercise with a score of 9.575. Her uneven bars routine scored her a 9.050. The only thing that held her back a bit was her 25th place finish on the balance beam, with a score of 8.450. She’s more than capable of putting up mid-9 scores in that event, and that could’ve made the difference in her all-around standing. She scored 36.500 to finish in third place, about a point behind Aliah Williams of Chisago Lakes and Abby Weber of Sartell-St. Stephen, her main competition.
With a clean run at the state tournament, there’s no reason Ertl shouldn’t be competing for a high medal finish this weekend.
As a team, North Branch finished in fourth place, but that wasn’t indicative of their performance. They had one of their best meets of the year, they just happen to be in the most loaded section in the state.
The vault event was solid, and they got nice performances from Samantha Ullmann and her 8.95, as well as Ertl’s big score.
On the bars, North Branch pieced together four strong routines. “They aren’t our strongest event, but we got through without any falls,” Johnson said.
North Branch started fast on the balance beam, with Ashley Robillard opening their run up with an clean 8.525 run, but after that, the stumbles struck North Branch and really cost them in the final tallies.
North Branch saved their best for last, though, by doing great in the floor exercise. Bekah Fish opened up their scoring with an 8.825 and the scores continued to climb from there. Angie Fish made a triumphant return from her true team section injury, scoring a 9.25 on the floor.
“I am proud of the team for the strength and fight they showed in such a strong section,” Johnson noted. “They fought through many injuries to be at the section meet.”
The Vikings were missing key gymnast Alexys Olson still, as she suffered a leg injury earlier in the year. The senior had been to the state tournament multiple times and would have made a huge difference in the team score, as well as the individual standings. “It’s sad that we wasn’t able to participate, but she supported her team all throughout the season,” Johnson said.
The state meet will be at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 23 at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Ertl will open on the uneven bars, then move to vault, then floor exercise and then the balance beam, so she’ll be able to save her best performance for the end to go all out on the beam and make up for her section stumbles.
“I’m very happy with the results from Keeley and from out team,” Johnson said. “They had one of their best performances of the season at the right time.”
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