MUNCIE — New Palestine’s first trip as a full team to the IHSAA Gymnastics State Finals since 2017 was both bittersweet and one met with adversity.
A late injury to sophomore standout JJ Fee, and an opening in competition on floor exercise, made head coach Deb Burns’ last meet a difficult one.
The Dragons finished ninth in the team standings with a score of 100.6 at Saturday’s finals held at Ball State University’s Worthen Arena.
Valparaiso won the team competition with a score of 112.35, just beating out second place Homestead’s score of 111.625. Rounding out the team scores were Crown Point (109.500), Columbus North (106.850), Lake Central (106.325), Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger (106.150), Bloomington North (104.825), and Fort Wayne Carroll (102.700).
“It was about what I expected,” Bruns said. “With gymnastics, you can see and kind of know what other teams are going to score.”
The Dragons opened up the competition as the first team to compete on the floor exercise, and whether it was nerves of the state finals or the nerves of starting on floor, New Palestine saw a step back in scores from the regional meet.
Fee — who was only cleared to compete in floor and beam — led the Dragons with a 14th place finish and score of 9.1. Freshman Lynzie Stiller was 18th (9.025), freshman Olivia Frank was 39th (8.55), and senior Addyson Kendall was 44th (8.075).
“I think we were a little flustered from starting first on floor as our first event,” Bruns said. “The scores were a little lower than what we’re used to, but overall I think we did pretty good.”
An injury suffered at cheer practice on Thursday night kept the Dragons’ best all-around competitor, Fee, from performing like she normally does.
The third place all-around finisher at the Franklin Central Regional was limited to just two events, and even in those events was limited as to what she could do.
Her floor score of 9.1 was down from the regional where she posted a 9.55 and while she led the Dragons once again on the beam with a 15th place finish, her score of 8.55 was well below her regional score of 9.45.
“The trainer cleared her to do beam, but it was under very tight restrictions, so we let her compete, and she did well. She had a fall, but still did very well,” Bruns said. “That injury did hurt though because she is one of our top scorers.”
The injury left the Dragons with just three competitors in vault, and forced Bruns to replace Fee on uneven bars with sophomore Chiara Polo.
Polo finished 42nd in bars (6.425) and 39th on beam (7.825).
Stiller was the Dragons’ top all-around finisher. Along with her 18th on floor, she finished 22nd on bars (8.325) and 40th in vault (8.7) for an all-around placement of 27th (26.05).
Kendall and Frank finished their competition with 30th (7.925) and 33rd (7.9) placements on bars.
Three Dragons competed in just one event. Junior Rebecca Johnson and senior Emily Hunter took on the vault, while freshman Reagan Seal competed on the balance beam.
Johnson placed 42nd with a score of 8.65 and Hunter finished in 46th with a score of 8.3. Seal’s score of 7.45 earned her 42nd.
The meet was the final one as head coach for the former New Palestine gymnast, Bruns, who had been at the helm of the Dragons program since 2017.
“It was a gift to me, and I truly thank God for that. I was blessed to be able to coach these girls and win sectional and make it to state. New Pal is my alma mater, I was on the team back in the 70s, some of the first teams that we had. It’s come a long way,” Bruns said. “I’ve been in tears a few times thinking that once I leave this is it, this is my final meet. I’m sure I’ll be back in the gym helping out, but I will not be coaching.”