NEW PALESTINE — There will be no sneaking up on people this time.
After shattering a school record and finishing second at last week’s Columbus East Regional, the New Palestine gymnastics team had its coming out party, officially shedding its underdog label.
In fact, based on regional scores, fans should be looking for the Dragons on the podium after Saturday’s state finals at Ball State. Their near 110-point regional score has them seeded third among nine state-qualifying teams.
New Palestine, the only unranked squad remaining in the tournament, had a regional rallying cry to “turn some heads.” Mission accomplished. Next up is making sure they stay in the spotlight.
“Now we have to prove what we just did was real,” eighth-year coach Jenny Musselman said during practice Wednesday. “Nobody expected us to do that, and now people are looking for us to fall flat on our faces. … We have to prove it again.”
Do not plan on the Dragons giving their doubters any satisfaction. Taking a step back has not been their style.
The Dragons have done nothing but improve in the past month. In their final meet of the regular season, they posted a season-high 105.475 points in a win against Shelbyville.
They proceeded to up the ante by snagging at sectional crown at Connersville with 106.5 points. Then came their magnum opus at Columbus East, a school-record 109.85 points.
The Dragons’ 4½-point jump is the highest any remaining team has made since the conclusion of the season.
Expecting another jump is a tall order, but Musselman sees the potential.
“Ultimately, top four teams get a medal,” Musselman said. “That is the girls’ No. 1 goal … (but) we will in state if we have a virtually flawless meet. We had some flaws Friday at the regional, so there is room to make up a solid point. The other route would be a couple teams are more flawed than usual.”
But both routes will be tough, Musselman said.
Eight teams stand in the way of the Dragons’ laying claim to the program’s first state title. The favorite is defending champion and top-seeded Valparaiso (113.775 at Valparaiso Regional). Senior standout Rushelle Miller (37.775 all-around) and freshman phenom Jenna Algozine (37.50) give the No. 1 Vikings a lethal one-two punch to rival the Dragons’ Kate Fee (37.325) and Regan Elsea (37.125). Combined with floor favorite Hanna Wilson (9.750), Valparaiso looks like an unstoppable force.
“Valpo does not usually have many flaws,” Musselman said. “Neither does Columbus North.”
The second-ranked and regional champion Bull Dogs (111.975) boast a potent one-two all-around combination of their own — Katrina May (37.7) and Ashley Holliday (37.325).
The field is rounded out by last-year’s state runner-up No. 4 Fort Wayne Dwenger (109.725), No. 11 Logansport (109.475), 2013 champion and No. 3 Portage (108.800), No. 5 Owen Valley (108.575), No. 13 Homestead (106.450) and No. 7 Fort Wayne Carrol (105.675).
Unfortunately for the Dragons, a loaded class of elite competition is not the only obstacle facing them. For senior leader Fee, Ball State has been the setting of two of the biggest heartbreaks of her career.
In each of the past two seasons, Fee, a balance beam specialist, has made it out of the sectional and regional rounds without a single fall. Last year, she even entered the final meet as the event favorite, having posted the highest regional score in the state.
However, in both state finals appearances, Fee slipped off the beam for the first time in weeks, incurring penalties and ending any hopes she had at climbing the podium.
Now, here she is again. Heading back to the state finals, Fee is a sectional and regional beam champion and among the favorites to win the event crown.
Fee is adamant she will get the monkey off her back this time around.
Known by her teammates as one of the rare athletes who can completely zone in and block out her surrounding environment, Fee confidently stated there will be no mistakes Saturday.
“I’m staying on the beam this time,” Fee said. “This routine is going to my best because it’s going to be my last. I’m saving the best for last.”
Fee is not the only Dragon looking for redemption.
In the past two meets, Elsea has fallen off the beam an uncharacteristic three times.
To say that has angered the senior would be putting it lightly, Musselman said.
“I think if that child could have shot lasers out of her eyes, she would have,” Musselman said of Elsea’s fall during regionals. “She was so angry with herself. She’s not going to let that happen again.
“I’m not really worried about either of them. They are both so determined. Neither is going to let it (falling) happen in her last event of the last meet. They won’t let it end like that.”
Notes: Opening ceremonies for Saturday’s state finals begin at 12:30 p.m. The competition starts at 1 p.m. New Palestine’s first event will be the floor exercise.
Second is the vault, then the uneven bars, and they finish on the beam. “I’m OK with starting of the floor, because it is a very solid and fun event for us,” Musselman said. “It’s the least nerve-racking, and it gets us the most motivated.” Fee said if she had to choose what event the Dragons performed first, it would be the floor. …
The Dragons’ most recent team state finals appearance was in 2013. They finished seventh out of eight. … Kenzi Hoffman has a stronghold on the Dragons’ record for best finish in a state finals event. In 2013, the then-senior finished in a three-way tie for second on the balance beam, though tiebreakers pushed her back to fourth place. … Count on seeing Morgan Township’s Kylee Maxwell with at least one medal around her neck during the award ceremony. Maxwell is the defending bars and all-around state champion. She enters the meet as the highest regional scorer in both (9.725 bars; 38.325 all-around) as well as the vault (9.9).
The New Palestine gymnastics team will compete in Saturday’s State Finals of the 43rd Annual IHSAA state tournament. It is the second time in three years the Dragons will compete as a team in the event and sixth straight time they have sent at least one representative.
Date: Opening ceremonies begin at 12:30 p.m. Saturday. Competition starts at 1 p.m.
Site: Worthen Arena, Ball State University, 1699 W. Bethel Avenue, Muncie.
Parking: According to the IHSAA website, Ball State charges $5 all-day parking fee in the Worthen Arena lots and $10 for vehicles that take up more than one parking space.
Team competitors (ranked by regional scores):
1. Valparaiso 113.775
2. Columbus North 111.975
3. New Palestine 109.850
4. Fort Wayne Dwenger 109.725
5. Logansport 109.475
6. Portage 108.800
7. Owen Valley 108.575
8. Homestead 106.450
9. Carrol (Ft. Wayne) 105.675
Individual Favorites (ranked by regional scores):
1. Kylee Maxwell, Morgan Township 38.325#
2. Rushelle Miller, Valparaiso 37.775
3. Jenna Algozine, Valparaiso 37.750
4. Kelley Platt, Logansport 37.625
5. Katrina May, Columbus North 37.700
6. Anna Watkind, Owen Valley 37.425
8. Kate Fee, New Palestine 37.325
1. Kylee Maxwell, Morgan Township 9.900#
2. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.725
3. Kelley Platt, Logansport 9.650
4. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 9.625
5. Emily Pomasl, Logansport 9.600
5. Maria Trahin, FW Dwenger 9.600
8. Kate Fee, New Palestine 9.550
1. Kylee Maxwell Morgan Township 9.725#
2. Kelley Platt, Logansport 9.625
3. Ashley Holliday, Columbus North 9.550
3. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.550
5. Katrina May, Columbus North 9.525
5. Jenna Algozine, Valparaiso 9.525
13. Regan Elsea, New Palestine 9.2
1. Katelynn, Chaffee, Homestead 9.650
2. Lizzy Schoenlein, Jay County 9.525#
3. Cassi Quissell, Plymouth 9.500#
3. Jenna Algozine, Valparaiso 9.500
3. Emily Pomasl, Logansport 9.500
6. Hanna Wilson, Valparaiso 9.475
14. Kate Fee, New Palestine 9.2
1. Hanna Wilson, Valparaiso 9.750
2. Rushelle Miller, Valparaiso 9.700
3. Becca Bryan, Columbus East 9.700
4. Sydney Intagliata, Valparaiso 9.675
5. Jenna Algozine, Valparaiso 9.650
5. Hannah Best, Crown Point 9.650#
5. Anna Watkin, Owen Valley 9.650
9. Kate Fee, New Palestine 9.6
#Competing as individual