Consider the New Palestine gymnastics team happy underdogs.
Heading into Friday’s regional at Columbus East, the Dragons are seeded fourth, one place shy of a state-qualifying bid.
It’s a position coach Jenny Musselman and the Dragons are thrilled to be in.
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“It’s more fun to go in and shock people,” said Musselman, who has used the team’s underdog status as a rallying cry this week. “Let’s go in there and shock some people. Let’s make them turn their heads. Let’s make them look at us and realize we belong in that top three, too.”
To execute that plan and advance to next Saturday’s IHSAA state finals at Ball State University, New Palestine must overcome a threesome of the state’s finest gymnastics team. The Dragons are on a collision course with defending regional champion and second-ranked Columbus North, plus No. 5 Columbus East and No. 6 Owen Valley, all of whom outscored New Palestine in the sectional round.
Upsetting those elite programs will be a tall order, but the Dragons have reason to be optimistic. First, it is well known among the coaching ranks, Musselman said, that scores in the southern part of the state tend to get inflated.
“We’re wondering: Is that inflation taking over right now?” said Musselman referring to Columbus North’s 113.4, Owen Valley’s 110.375 and Columbus East’s 108.275 scores last week at the Columbus East Sectional. New Palestine scored a 106.5 to win the Connersville Sectional. “And will we see something a little more leveled out (this) week? It’s very possible.”
The second and perhaps most important reason to think the Dragons can pull off an upset, however, is that they “bombed” on the balance beam at sectionals.
That may seem a peculiar reason to be to optimistic, but beam usually is the Dragons’ strongest event. So, even though they tallied their lowest score on the beam among the four individual components (including vault, floor exercise and uneven bars), they still posted a season-best team point total.
“I definitely think we’re peaking,” said Musselman, who is in her eighth year at the helm of New Palestine. “And we still have some small room to improve. Everybody says that after sectionals. I say that every year after sectionals, but if we refine a few things, we’re neck and neck with those other schools.”
With a return to norm on the beam, Musselman said, their score Friday will resemble those posted by their regional competition.
“We lost two-and-a-half points on the beam on falls,” Musselman said. “That’s a 109. And I don’t think the third team at the other sectional scored (much higher than) a 108. I’m like, ‘Guys, look at where we’re at. We’re so close. Stay amped up, and fix the little things we can fix. If we do that and make sure we don’t fall five times on the beam, that’s all it is.’”
Consider that Tara Morey, New Palestine’s No. 3 all-around competitor, scored a 6.375 on the beam at sectionals. That score is not representative of what More is capable of, Musselman said. When Morey is on the top of her game, she posts scores closer to 8.5 or 8.6.
If, on Friday, Morey rebounds and everything else stays the same from sectionals, the Dragons’ will have scored 108.65 and punched their ticket to state. Theoretically.
Others will have to step up, too. The Dragons’ dynamic duo of Kate Fee and Regan Elsea, who finished 1-2 in the sectional all-around, likely will need season-best performances, and at least four more Dragons could bear heavy burdens as well.
For New Palestine to advance, Emily Heighway likely will have to trump or at least duplicate her 8.65 sectional score on bars. The same goes for Rylee Elsea on the floor (a season-best 8.7) and Faith Land on the vault (9.1, also a season-best).
All will not be lost, however, if New Palestine does not advance as a team.
The top six scorers in each event and in the all-around competition also will perform at Ball State.
That should give Fee, a two-time state-qualifier and defending regional balance beam champion, an excellent shot at moving on.
Regan Elsea also will be considered a favorite to advance, as she boasts the fourth-highest sectional score in both the floor and vault.
That said, Musselman said she knows the pressure is on to make a run at state as a team this year. With Fee and Regan Elsea graduating, she said, this could be the Dragons’ last great opportunity for a while.
“If we’re going to make it happen, we better make it happen now,” she said. “Next year is going to be a whole lot harder.”
The top three teams from last week’s Columbus East and Connersville sectionals clash at Columbus East on Friday in the regional round of the 43rd Annual IHSAA State Tournament. Here is more information for the event:
Date: 7.p.m Friday at Columbus East High School
Advancement: The top three scorers in the team competition advance to the State Finals March 21 at Ball State. Also qualifying for state are the top six place winners in each event as well as the top six place winners in the all-around competition. Competitors also advance if they score a 9.5 on the bars; a 9.3 on the beam, a 9.525 on the vault, a 9.45 in the floor exercise or a 37.225 in the all-around competition.
Team competitors (ranked by sectional scores)
1. Columbus North 113.4
2. Owen Valley 110.375
3. Columbus East 108.275
4. New Palestine 106.5
5. Connersville 101.2
6. New Castle 99.7
Individual favorites (ranked by sectional scores)
1. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 38.7
2. Katrina May, Columbus North 38.250
3. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 37.85
4. Becca Bryan, Columbus East 37.8
5. Claire Thompson, Columbus North 37.3
6. Kate Fee, New Palestine 36.875
1. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 9.650
1. Katrina May, Columbus North 9.650
3. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.6
4. Claire Thompson, Columbus North 9.425
5. Becca Bryan, Columbus East 9.225
6. Regan Elsea, New Palestine 9.150
1. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.725
2. Becca Bryan, Columbus East 9.425
2. Katrina May, Columbus North 9.425
4. Alyssa Goen, Seymour, 9.2
5. Claire Thompson, Columbus North 9.175
6. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 9.1
1. Becca Bryan, Columbus East 9.75
1. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.75
3. Katrina May, Columbus North 9.650
4. Regan Elsea, New Palestine 9.6
5. Kate Fee, New Palestine 9.575
5. Alyssa Goen, Seymour 9.575
1. Megan Olyder, Bloomington South 9.650
2. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 9.625
3. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.625
4. Regan Elsea, New Palestine 9.6
5. Katrina May, Columbus North 9.525
6. Kate Fee, New Palestine 9.45
6. Kaylee Eurton, Bloomington South 9.45