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New Pal gymnasts flip script on Roncalli

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INDIANAPOLIS — It’s official. Come March, New Palestine gymnastics should capture its first sectional title since 2006.

Heading into this season, the projection around the prep gymnastics community was that longtime power Roncalli would be in for a “down year,” and that with New Palestine finishing just behind the Rebels during the Catholic school’s current four-year sectional win streak, the Dragons would be the new top tumblers.

In a dual meet Thursday in Roncalli’s home gym, New Palestine got confirmation of its elite status.

Led by Kenzi Hoffman, Dragons gymnasts won three of four individual events, plus the all-around, and beat Roncalli for the first time in recent memory, 100.575-97.45.

“I think we’re definitely the favorite right now,” New Palestine coach Jenny Musselman said. “Roncalli has been so good for so many years, but I knew there was no way they could replace the twins. And then their No. 3 girl didn’t return.”

Musselman cautioned that this relatively-young and still-improving Roncalli group should not be overlooked, as they find their way without Cassie and Kaitie Schultheis. The Roncalli sisters were a thorn in the side of the Dragons and other teams throughout the state, leading the Rebels to a 53-0 regular season record over their four-year careers before graduating last spring. Another top Rebel chose not to compete this season.

On Jan. 12, Noblesville handed Roncalli its first loss since a Bush was president, 99.625-95.325.

During the Schultheis years, the Rebels never scored lower than 108.225 at the sectional.

In the most recent state coaches poll, the Dragons are ranked No. 13, while the Rebels are unranked — more uncharted territory for the Roncalli program.

Thursday at The Gymnastics Company — the Rebels’ home gym near Greenwood — Hoffman made sure the Dragons took advantage of the new-look Rebels. The New Palestine senior won the all-around (34.025 points) on the strength of victories on the vault (8.75) and balance beam (8.65).

Because of wear and tear on their bodies, and sometimes the loss of flexibility that comes with growth spurts, upperclassmen gymnasts don’t always perform as well as when they were freshmen and sophomores.

Hoffman is bucking that trend.

“She has improved so much since she was a freshman,” Musselman said of Hoffman, who advanced to the state finals individually the last two seasons. “We laughed that when she used to flip as a freshman she kind of looked like a cat that had been tossed in the air because her body position was so terrible, and now she’s just so strong and so clean.

“Kenzi has so much competitive drive. She works as hard as she can. She is just a really tough athlete and she is always just striving to better herself; she competes against herself every meet.”

Hoffman had plenty of assistance Thursday.

Sophomore Kate Fee won the floor exercise (8.95) and finished runner-up on the uneven bars for the Dragons, while freshman Annabelle Dockins (recovering from an ankle injury) was second on the floor, and Shelly Huesman placed third on the bars and fourth in the all-around.

Despite the success of earning a rare win over Roncalli, the meet was closer than it could have been, the Dragons’ coach noted.

“They had their best meet and we had our worst meet, as far as team score,” Musselman said. “I think this is a little bit of a wake-up call for our girls, because they knew we were ranked, so they kind of thought, ‘Oh, it’s in the bag. We’ve got this, we’re’ going to win sectional, win regionals, go to state as a team.’ But I think they realized that, ‘Oh, Roncalli’s only three points away.’”

Musselman pointed out that several of her gymnasts should remember the result of the 2011 sectional, with caution. New Palestine notched a 96 in this dual meet matchup that season, then posted a school-record 107.6 to nearly dethrone the Rebels (108.075) in the state tourney.

“So, we jumped up 11 points that year,” Musselman said. “Roncalli is more than capable of doing something similar. And we’re not 11 points better than them, at least not tonight.

“I hope this gives our girls that extra drive and motivation in practice. I know it has done that for me as a coach.”

The Dragons, who will host the sectional March 2, can’t afford to relax. Noblesville — the squad that defeated Roncalli two weeks ago — will visit New Palestine for a meet Tuesday.

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