CONNERSVILLE — JJ Fee may have missed an opportunity to be an all-around sectional champion, but she didn’t miss the opportunity to help New Palestine win its first gymnastics sectional since 2017.

The Dragons had a season-high score of 103.425 and won by over four points over second-place New Castle (99.250) in Saturday’s Connersville Sectional held at Connersville High School.

Fee, who was competing at a cheerleading competition Saturday morning in Columbus, Ohio, missed the Dragons’ rotation on the uneven bars (the first event at 11 a.m.), but she arrived in time to do a quick warmup, jump on the balance beam and become one of four individual champions for the Dragons.

Fee scored 9.525 to win the beam. She also won the floor exercise, the only other event she competed, with a score of 9.525.

“We had Olivia Frank warming up for beam. She did not want to compete beam, but she was ready,” New Palestine coach Deb Bruns said. “JJ walked in and we still had a couple minutes to warm up.

“She jumped up and was all over the place. I told her to go take some deep breaths and get that adrenaline out. Beam is not where you want all that adrenaline. She did, and she’s such a good competitor. She wasn’t going to give that (beam) away.”

“My adrenaline was all over the place and my warmup was not good,” Fee said “I didn’t make anything in warmups. I sat in the corner, closed my eyes and vividly went through my routine in my head to calm my nerves.”

Even with Fee yet to arrive, senior Addy Kendall had got her team off to a good start. She won the uneven bars with a score of 8.3.

“I was pretty excited to win bars. That’s my favorite event. I was ready to go (to start the day),” Kendall said.

Still, after two events, the Dragons were in second place, trailing New Castle 51.425 to 50.1. But, they had competed on bars and beam, two events that typically have lower scores. New Castle had accumulated its scores on floor and vault.

The Dragons followed with a 1-2-3 finish on floor exercise and had the lead for good.

“Pretty big, pretty big,” Kendall said on the team winning the program’s first sectional in six years. “We worked very hard. We knew we could win it if we worked together and worked as a team.”

The other New Pal individual winner was freshman Lynzie Stiller. She did not win an individual event, but she was the individual all-around champion with a score of 34.3.

The first-year high school gymnast finished .15 better than Rushville junior Isabell Westphal.

“I didn’t expect this at all,” Stiller said of being the all-around champion. “I was just trying to stay consistent on everything and not fall, keep my mindset clean, and focus on more of the end goal and not just an individual (event).”

She finished second to Fee on the floor (9.4), was third on bars (7.925) and fifth on vault (8.7).

The Dragons got a strong performance from another freshman, too. Frank completed the 1-2-3 Dragon finish on floor with a score of 8.725. She was fifth on bars (7.75). Kendall added a sixth-place finish on balance beam (8.325).

The sectional title was the first for the Dragons since 2017, Bruns’ first season as head coach of her alma mater. She announced earlier this year the 2023 season would be her last. She has coached previously at the club level and also at Warren Central High School.

“It means a lot because it is my last year,” Bruns said on winning the sectional her final season. “I started coaching at age 19 and this is a good way to finish … I think these guys have the potential to make it to state. I feel like at the regional, if we can hit, we’ve got a good shot. It’s great to be a sectional champion, but I really want to go to state, too.”

“I’m happy to make her proud. She makes us proud,” Kendall added.

The Dragons, second-place New Castle and third-place Rushville (95.525) all advanced to the Franklin Central Regional, which will take place at The Gymnastics Company in Wanamaker Friday at 6:30 p.m.

The regional will include the top three teams from the Franklin Central Sectional, No. 10 Bloomington North (107.375), No. 6 Columbus North (106.800) and Bloomington South (101.850).

The top three teams will advance to the state finals to be held Saturday, March 11 in Muncie at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena. Along with the top three teams, the top six in each individual event will advance, as well as, all gymnasts who receive the score of the sixth-place gymnast at the previous state finals (vault – 9.550; bars – 9.350; beam – 9.225; floor exercise – 9.500; all-around – 37.475).