Plymouth gymnastics ends long regional drought

PLYMOUTH — Coming into Saturday’s Wawasee Sectional, Plymouth’s gymnastics team liked its chances to advance to regionals. After junior Traci Longanecker reinjured her ankle on beam, the Lady Pilgrims’ forecast got a little dimmer.
But several gymnasts stepped up in key spots — junior Rachel Principe scored an 8.6 in the vault, senior Maggie Morrow turned in a no-fall 7.8 on beam and a 7.9 on the floor, sophomore Nicky Davis placed fifth in the vault and sixth in the floor on her way to a seventh-place all-around finish, and freshman Cassie Quissell was third in the vault and fourth on the beam en route to a fifth-place standing in the all-around — and Plymouth edged out Elkhart Central by a mere .125 of a point to earn its first team regional berth since 2007.
The Lady Pilgrims will travel to the Valparaiso Regional Friday with competition slated to begin at 6 p.m. Central Time.
“After Traci went down it was nerve-wracking for the rest of us, but we all stepped it up, and I was able to include a score that helped us,” said Morrow. “I was happy just because I didn’t have any regrets after I was done, and I think that’s what matters, is just to leave it all out there.”
“We came in and I was really happy after bars, we were in great position,” said Plymouth gymnastics coach Dr. Tony McPherron. “Traci kind of tweaked her ankle on beam and had three falls. We hadn’t been scoring her a lot on beam anyway, we’ve been scoring Maggie, but it always made me nervous for that next event, what we’re going to be able to do after that. And unfortunately it showed on floor that it was more than just a little tweak because she ended up not being able to finish and we ended up having to count Maggie’s score.
“Coming into vault, which we finished on, we knew we needed really good vaults out of at least three of the four of them, and Rachel Principe had one of her better vaults of the season I thought… Then Cassie came out and had a great handspring full vault. The best she could do was a 9.4, that’s if she did it perfect, and she had a 9.1 on it, so that was really big for us as well. And I told Nicky before the meet even started that this meet was probably going to come down to her landing her vault, and she stuck her first one. As soon as she stuck it, looking at the other scores on bars at the other end of the gym I thought we had a really good shot at moving on, and we ended up getting through.”
It’s been a long dry spell for the Pilgrims moving on to the regional level. The last time they did so was in 2006-07 when the team placed second at Wawasee to continue a string of nine straight top-three sectional finishes.
Morrow and fellow seniors Mandi McPherron and Stephanie Rosas weren’t even in high school when the program was finishing up that run. Morrow and McPherron have now stuck it out with the team four years, and the combination of their leadership and the incoming talent possessed by Davis — the school vault record-holder — and Quissell — who owns school records in both the beam and the all-around — are the key ingredients in Plymouth’s return to regionals, says Dr. McPherron.
“The year after we went was the year I first started helping coach. We had some really good gymnasts. The biggest change that year was they changed our sectional alignment. We had a bunch of Fort Wayne schools coming in that year, and they came in with really phenomenal talent those couple years; they had girls that were state champions. We finished one spot out of moving on, and it was close,” said the Plymouth coach. “After that we graduated a bunch of seniors, and we were left with really one decent gymnast in each of the junior and senior classes, and a bunch of girls that hadn’t done gymnastics before coming in. Maggie was a part of that class coming in, Mandy was a part of that class, and we really started from scratch with them. This year I think we’re seeing a lot of veteran leadership that’s been in this program now four years that have worked hard four years… Then we’ve had the influx in the last two years of Nicky and Cassie coming in. Nicky’s our vault record-holder, Cassie’s our beam record-holder and all-around record-holder this year as a freshman. She and Nicky have been battling back and forth all year for that all-around spot. And I think having those really good underclassmen has pushed those upperclassmen that much harder because they don’t want to be kind of left in the dust, so to speak, and they’ve responded very well.”
Friday’s regional meet will be the first for all but one Pilgrim after Davis earned a berth to Valpo with a fifth-place individual all-around placement last season. The experience was a daunting one, said the sophomore, and she’s looking forward to competing with her team this year.
“It’s a lot less stressful this time because I have teammates with me,” she said. “It was really scary because of all the people over there, so I’m guessing it’ll be better.”
The Valparaiso field is stacked against Plymouth with the state’s No. 1 and 2-ranked teams in Valpo and Portage as well as fourth-ranked Chesterton slated to compete and only two team berths reserved for the state finals at Perry Meridian March 21.
Davis and Quissell both have a shot at moving on individually with top a six-finish in their events, however. Davis’ best shot of advancing is in the vault or on bars, and Quissell’s best odds are on the beam and in the floor competition.
“We’ve got a bear Friday night, that’s for sure,” said McPherron. “Valpo’s putting up 112s, Portage is putting up 110s and 111s, Chesterton is putting up 109s, Angola and Dekalb are 106 and 108. And unfortunately this sport isn’t like football or basketball where if you get lucky on one night some undefeated team can lose to a team that’s winless. They might drop down one or two points and we might jump up two or three points, but we’re still 10 points away so the odds of us finishing in the top two and moving on — we’re pretty realistic — are nill.”
“I think we have a decent shot at Cassie and Nicky moving on,” he continued. “Probably not in the all-around, but at least in individual events. Cassie has a real good shot to move on in beam and maybe bars. Nicky has a decent shot in vault if we can get her vault kind of tuned up. We missed that whole month of January (with injury) where we really didn’t have a chance to work her new vault that we’re working on right now. Nicky on bars as well and maybe on floor Cassie, but her best shot is on beam.”
“It’s been fun. I was really excited with the two records this year,” said Quissell of her freshman season.
“I would really like to move on. I’m hoping. I know there’s a chance that I won’t make it, but I’m just going to push.”
For the rest of Plymouth’s gymnasts, Friday’s regional is just about finishing the season on a high note and enjoying their moment after helping restore some luster to the program following its long regional drought.
“It’s been awesome this year. I’ve never really had a chance to make it to regionals as a team. It’s really cool to end my senior year with it,” said Morrow.
“Let’s be honest, I’m not planning on advancing or anything, but I’m just hoping to have a good meet. I was happy with my sectionals, and at regional I just want to feel the same way. It’ll be my last so I just want to have fun.”