Different routine: New Palestine gymnasts realize importance of new protocols

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By Steve Heath | Daily Reporter

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NEW PALESTINE — The accomplished New Palestine Dragons gymnastics program should have things covered quite well when it comes to performing on the various apparatus and floor mat during the 2021 season.

Fifth-year head coach Deb Bruns believes a big challenge this season will be COVID-19 protocol.

The high school gymnastics season, for the Dragons, begins on Tuesday in a meet at New Castle that also includes Connersville.

It’s the first of seven events this month. The regular season ends Feb. 23.

If they would have a situation where they would have to quarantine, two weeks of the season would be erased. That equates to nearly one-third of the regular season.

“Health is the most important thing,” Bruns said, which in the past mostly referred to injuries rather than sickness. “Remembering our COVID protocol (will be a key to our season).

“(I tell them) if you guys want to finish the season, you have to follow protocol, you have got to keep your social distancing. If one of you gets quarantined we are all going to be quarantined and the whole team doesn’t compete for two weeks and what if that week is sectionals?”

Bruns admitted she has “become a nag about it.”

She said her team comes to the gym in masks, which they pull down when they are on equipment.

“I try to make them understand, what they do matters. It may not affect you, but it does matter,” Bruns said.

It’s two-fold for her and the Dragons. One, and most importantly, she does not want anyone getting sick and the possibility of taking that illness back home to someone more vulnerable to the virus. Two, as has been common for the New Palestine program, they should have another really good team.

The Dragons will miss Grace Shanahan, who went to the state finals last year, the first Dragon to do so since Emily Heighway in 2017.

She was the lone senior performer on last year’s team, which reached the regional for the 10th time in the last 11 years.

Shanahan finished eighth in the vault and 16th in the overall competition.

She is a big loss, but the Dragons return a number of talented gymnasts in hopes of returning, as a team, to the state finals for the first time since 2015.

Junior Kennedy Garrett leads a group of talented returnees and promising newcomers that will be expected to be key performers this season.

Garrett went to state last year to set a base score for the balance beam. She just missed qualifying, placing seventh at last year’s Columbus Regional with a score of 9.000. She finished 13th in the regional’s overall competition.

Bruns expects good things out of her this year.

“She has a beam routine that if she gets up there and nails it, she could win state,” Bruns said of the junior that has been putting a lot of extra time into practicing a very difficult, back-tuck, back-tuck routine. “She’s up there all the time working that connection. It’s almost in her head, ‘I’m going to state.'”

The coach also mentioned Garrett has been upping her skills on uneven bars, too.

“She’s really bound and determined to make it (to state) this year,” Bruns added.

Shanahan was the only senior competing last year and Emma Poag will be the only senior performing this season.

Poag finished 17th in last year’s all-around at regional, and like Garrett, is looking to get to the state meet for the first time.

“She’s really pushing herself,” Bruns said. “She really wants it.”

Bruns said they will miss a second senior, Addie Halter, who for the second time will miss gymnastics season to a torn ACL suffered during the fall playing soccer.

Halter was a regional competitor last year, finishing 11th on floor.

The veteran coach is hoping the addition of sophomore Addy Kendall will help with the loss of both the graduated Shanahan and the injured Halter.

Kendall is a veteran of club gymnastics that did not compete at the high school level in 2020. Bruns expects her to take Shanahan’s all-around spot in the lineup.

Junior Alyse Rickey, sophomores Addi Bird and Emily Hunter along with frosh Rebecca Johnson, another that has had success in club gymnastics, are others that make this another very strong Dragon team.

Bruns has 11 on her roster, which also includes sophomore Brooke Weinrich and freshmen Blakelie Brubeck and Maliah Ringham.

The Dragons have three events during the first week of the season. Following Tuesday’s opener at New Castle, they have their first home event on Thursday, Jan. 14 with Shelbyville, Waldron and Lutheran. On Saturday, Jan. 16, they travel to state-power Valparaiso for the Viking Invitational.