CONNERSVILLE — Four days before the Connersville Sectional, New Palestine gymnastics head coach Debbie Bruns said she was praying for a miracle.
Nowhere near 100 percent leading up to Saturday’s sectional meet, the Dragons gymnastics team closed out its season finale last week with an impressive 17-point margin while being stricken by the flu bug.
“I had a couple of girls get really sick on Tuesday,” Bruns said. “I thought, okay, this could go either way. With all the stuff going around, if it takes out one of our leading scorers, then it could really hurt us. Let’s hope it doesn’t.
“We were sanitizing everything all week.”
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Without significant illness or injury Saturday, the Dragons cleaned up big inside the Spartan Bowl, winning the program’s first sectional team championship since 2015 and the all-around title behind a strong performance from senior Emily Heighway.
“Sometimes, you never know. You have to hit a weekend where everyone is healthy and everything goes right,” Bruns said. “Their goal was to win sectional.”
The Dragons secured their third sectional title in five years and 10th overall with a team score of 105.125 ahead of runner-up Richmond at 102.975. Connersville was third at 100.975 with the top-three teams advancing to the Columbus East Regional on Friday at 7 p.m.
Heighway won the all-around with a score of 36.600 after finishing first in both vault (9.425) and bars (9.025). She was second on floor (9.100) and third on beam at 9.275.
“That was a goal. She told me, ‘I don’t have to walk away with five blue ribbons, but I really, really want the all-around,'” Bruns said. “That’s good. If they don’t have a goal, then they can let a fall get to them. By having that goal, she pulled it through.”
Heighway, who has been hampered by injuries the past few years, succeeded by conquering prior setbacks, especially with her bars routine.
“She’s really struggled in connecting her bar series all winter, but she nailed it. That was the biggest thing for her,” Bruns said. “For her to win bars, that was huge.”
Suffering just one fall throughout the meet also helped boost the Dragons, along with their efficiency up and down the lineup.
New Palestine placed in the top 10 in various events with four on floor, and senior Faith Land was 11th in the all-around standings at 33.475.
Land was second on vault (9.400) and sixth on floor (8.650).
“The seniors actually tend to do better at the bigger meets. It’s where they’ve come from. I’ve coached them both in club previously, so I knew they would actually do better under the pressure,” Bruns said.
Land and Heighway helped ease everyone’s nerves from the beginning, setting the tone on beam, the Dragons first event and, at times, most trying exercise.
“No warmup, going straight to beam is what we practiced all week,” Bruns said. “I think that kind of paid off. Beam is the make or break in gymnastics. I knew if we didn’t hit, then overcoming that was going to be a pretty big obstacle.”
Freshman Grace Shanahan placed seventh on the apparatus with an 8.575 and was third on bars (8.625).
“We’ve struggled a little bit on beam, so getting that consistency of nailing routines, it calmed everyone down,” Bruns said.
On vault, junior Taylor Brown was 11th overall at 8.675. Land placed 16th on bars (7.950), and junior Bailey Watkins was 13th on beam (8.000).
On floor, sophomore Sarah Thompson tied Land for sixth with an 8.650. Watkins tied Muncie Central’s Sinclair Buchanan for ninth (8.575) on floor.
“At the beginning of the year, (sectional) wasn’t even on my radar yet, but towards the middle of the year we were getting a little bit more consistent, and I kept adding skills to the girls’ routines to bring their score value up,” said Bruns, who has been dealing with pneumonia the past few days. “At that point and towards the end of the season, I thought we had a good shot, and it happened.”
The Dragons (12-2) move on to regional next where the competition increases with several top teams feeding into Columbus East, including last year’s state champion Columbus North.
“They realize we’re looking at a very tough regional. We have three of the top teams in the state,” Bruns said. “Those three teams will probably be in the top five at state.
“Everything will need to come together for us to get out as a team at regional. The talent is there, but the girls all know they have to do well.”
Team Scores: New Palestine 105.125, Richmond 102.975, Connersville 100.975, New Castle 98.575, Muncie Central 92.575, Knightstown 91.175, Cambridge City Lincoln 91.125, Rushville 89.875, Shelbyville 82.325, Morristown 70.825, Centerville 66.800, Seton Catholic 66.200, Waldon 52.925, Muncie Burris 35.200, Pendleton Height 34.775.
* Top-three teams advance
Vault: 1st – E. Heighway, NP (9.425), 2nd – F. Land, NP (9.400), 3rd – K. Cochran, NC (9.375), 4th – C. Zehr, PH (9.225), 5th – L. Griffin, RHS (9.225), 6th – T. Burhans, MB (9.075).
Bars: 1st – E. Heighway, NP (9.025), 2nd – E. Ogle, CCL (8.625), 2nd – G. Shanahan, NP (9.625), 4th – A. Sargent, CON (8.500), 5th – W. Owens, CON (8.450), 5th – T. Burhans, MB (8.450), 5th – L. Griffin, RHS (8.450).
Beam: 1st – C. Zehr, PH (9.275), 2nd – T. Burhans, MB (9.225), 3rd – E. Heighway, NP (9.050), 4th – K. Cochran, NC (8.925), 5th – W. Owens, CON (8.900), 6th – C. Golay, RHS (8.650).
Floor: 1st – S. Rohe, CENT (9.275), 2nd – E. Heighway, NP (9.100), 3rd – K. Cochran, NC (9.050), 4th – L. Noah, CENT (8.800), 5th – L. Griffin, RHS (8.750), 6th – S. Thompson, NP (8.650), 6th – F. Land, NP (8.650).
All-Around: 1st – E. Heighway, NP (36.600), 2nd – K. Cochran, NC (35.325), 3rd – T. Burhans, MB (35.200), 4th – C. Zehr, PH (34.775), 5th – L. Griffin, RHS (34.750), 6th – S. Rohe, CENT (34.650).