LaGRANGE — Last year the Plymouth High School gymnastics team circled five meets at the start of the season as meets that they had specific goals for. They met those goals in four of the five. The one they didn’t was the Lakeland Invitational.
Since going to the invitational for the last five years it has been the worst meet of the season for the Pilgrims for some unknown reason. Saturday was their chance this year to break the curse, and it seemed as if the day was starting out like a typically bad one for the 16th-ranked Pilgrims.
Weather turned the normal 75-minute bus ride into an almost two-hour affair. The Pilgrims arrived four minutes before they were to start their warm-up rotation on the balance beam.
Maybe they should consider arriving late to every meet from now on.
Plymouth took fourth place in the 11-team event for its best-ever finish at the invitational. Angola, also ranked 16th in the state and featuring last year’s state champion on bars and beam in Alex Nickel, won the event with a team score of 102.7. Angola had previously been ranked in the top five but lost Nickel to injury for the last several weeks and saw its ranking tumble. Nickel made a return at Lakeland in all events but vault.
After Angola, there was a mere 0.8 points separating the second-placed No. 12 FW Carrol, third-place Dekalb, and fourth-place Plymouth.
“It was a horrible bus trip. We had to stop several times so coach could clean the windshield to even see. However, we knew we needed to just be ready when we got there and keep our heads in the game” said Plymouth senior Traci Longanecker. “We basically walked in and hopped on the beam without doing any of our normal warm-up stretching or anything.”
“I can’t say enough about how these five girls did today,” said PHS coach Tony McPherron. “We have had this meet circled since last year’s meet. Then to get into the weather on the way over, all I could think was here we go again. We get here and hop on the beam and quite frankly did not have a good warm-up out of them, especially Traci. I decided to pull her and compete Brycelyn (Garza) after warm-ups were done. To both their credit Brycelyn, with very little warm-up time, got up there and hit a season-high and a no-fall routine. Traci didn’t let it bother her either and went out and had a great meet on the other three events. We used Traci’s score on vault, and Karly (Gruett) scored for us on bars. Traci and Karly tied on floor so we used all of three of them in at least one event for our third score.”
Plymouth’s success as a team the remainder of this season will likely depend heavily on whomever the third girl is that scores for the team. In gymnastics, four girls compete on each event for a team and the top three scores are used to compile the team score for that event. The top two spots for Plymouth are secured by co-No. 1s in junior Nicky Davis and sophomore Cassi Quissell, who once again showed why they are ranked in the top 20 gymnasts in the state. Just a week after placing fourth and sixth respectively in the all-around at the very competitive Merrillville invitational, Davis and Quissell continued their stellar seasons by placing second and fourth, respectively at Lakeland.
Davis placed second again on the bars, matching her placing last weekend and beating the defending state champion Nickel in the process. Davis also took seventh on vault, fourth on beam, and fifth on floor on the day.
Quissel also placed in top nine in every event as well. She took eighth on vault, sixth on bars, tied for fifth on beam and ninth on floor on her way to the fourth-place all-around finish.
“Cassi and Nicky really are having great seasons. We have a few new skills we are working on with them, but really they just need to work on cleaning things up and getting all the little details right,” said McPherron. “I really think we may get our first ever state qualifier this year out of one or both of those two. They both missed it by 0.1 last year and they are much better gymnasts this year than last. I feel very comfortable with those two.
“Where we really need to get better is at our number three spot. To place two girls in the top four all-around — and the teams that beat us only had one girl between the three of them — place in the top five shows where we need help as a team. Traci, Karly, and Brycelyn really need to combine to give us a 31-33 at our three spot for me to feel comfortable about our chances in the state tournament.”
Longanecker echoed her coaches comments.
“Nicky and Cassi are just great gymnasts. The rest of us need to keep working so we get better as a team and as individuals,” she said. “We are adding a new skill every few weeks, and we have a month to get where we need to be before sectional. We wont be satisfied without breaking the school record (in team points) this year, winning sectional and moving to regional for the second year in a row.”
“This meet is all of our sectional teams plus Carroll” said McPherron. “If today were the sectional we would have moved on to regional, but that isn’t good enough this year. We want to win sectionals, not just place top three. We have some work to do. We are getting there but we never stop working to improve.” “After all, 10.0 is still perfect in high school, and we haven’t had anyone close to that yet,” laughed the coach.
Plymouth will travel to Warsaw on Thursday for an NLC battle with the Tigers, who placed eighth this weekend at Lakeland. It will be the third time the teams have squared off this season having also met at the season opening Elkhart Invitational which was won by the Pilgrims. Meet time is 6:30 p.m.