MUNCIE — Only 10 minutes into State Finals competition, Kate Fee’s chances of earning a gymnastics championship were, for all practical purposes, gone.
The plucky teenager, though, refused to go into a mental funk after falling off the balance beam — on which she was a pre-meet title contender — and finished the day all smiles.
Fee, a New Palestine junior, was tied for the top regional beam score (9.525) among all competitors entering the 42nd Annual IHSAA State Finals Saturday at Ball State’s Worthen Arena.
And a 9.525 was the exact score posted by Angola’s Alex Nickel Saturday to earn a place atop the beam podium.
Fee, who qualified for state in all four events, opened the meet on the beam, and she was the second overall competitor. She slipped while transitioning between skills, however, and came off the four-inch wide apparatus. Her final score of 8.5 landed a 34th place finish out of 48 girls.
“I kind of knew I was off on the switch leap before I even went for the tuck, so I knew the tuck was going to be off in the first place,” Fee said. “I landed and I was off to the side and I tried to fight it.”
The Dragons’ top tumbler rallied to post a 9.125 on the floor exercise, a 9.025 on the vault and — in her final event, nearly four hours post-beam — a career-best 9.025 on the uneven bars.
Fee finished with a total score of 35.675, good for 20th of 34 all-arounders. Had Fee compiled something in her routine range of 9.5 on the beam, she would have contended for a top-10 all-around finish, plus the beam blue ribbon.
Kylee Maxwell of Morgan High in Valparaiso won the all-around crown with a 37.8 ahead of Valpo’s Lia Milroy (37.725). Maxwell also won the bars with a 9.65. Chasity Wampler of Richmond took the vault with a 9.85. And Danielle Solls of Portage was first on the floor with a 9.75.
Fee’s misstep on the beam was her first fall in several weeks, New Palestine coach Jenny Musselman noted.
“She is an extremely good beam worker and very consistent, so it was very uncharacteristic,” the coach said. “Her reputation on beam is so solid, I think it even shocked some of our judges. Because we see three of the four judges often, so it was kind of like, ‘Kate Fee fell? What?’”
Still, Fee didn’t let the “what could have been” sentiment drive her thoughts Saturday.
“After the beam, I knew I couldn’t get the main goals I wanted, which was a 37 (overall) and to try and place on beam,” Fee said. “But I just thought, ‘I still have three events left and I can at least kind of do my best on all the rest and go out with a bang.’”
By the time Fee was swinging from the bars, she was going for broke. The sectional all-around champ and regional beam champ this season, Fee recently added a skill to her bars routine.
When she pulled off the new task, Fee was giddy, and a wide grin remained on her face, even while she was spinning.
“Coming down from the second giant to do her dismount, she was already giggling,” Musselman said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘You brat.’”
Fee added that she nearly let loose with a mid-routine exclamation.
“I did stick my tongue out, because I was so happy,” she said through a smile. “I really don’t like bars that much, so it was nice to get a nine, finally.
“I almost said, ‘I did it!’ I got a little too excited on that one.”
Adding to the buoyant mood was the knowledge that Fee will have another crack at state. And most of her New Palestine teammates will return to the squad next year, as well.
The relatively young group scored in the 100-103 range for the most part this season.
Fee and Musselman agreed that the Dragons should be notching 107s in 2015.
“We have pretty big hopes for next year team wise, but we’re focusing on the individual to improve the team,” Musselman said. “It all goes hand in hand.”
Fee was the only Dragons gymnast to advance out of the regional this season. Last year, the entire team advanced to state, and they expect to do the same next year.
“It’s hard to come to a meet like this by yourself, without your team,” Musselman said. “We do have three girls with us (cheering), and that has helped a lot. But it’s just hard to practice by yourself all week.
“If your team is with you, that makes the individual aspect easier. You have that support system with you, so it just makes you feel better.”
Valparaiso won their state-best 10th team title Saturday with a 111.850, ahead of Fort Wayne Dwenger (111.225), Columbus North (109.9), 2013 champ Portage (108.575), Merrillville (107.425), Fort Wayne Carroll (105.275), Connersville (104.175), Columbus East (102.3) and Jay County (101.25).