SYRACUSE — Lots of ice and a heavy tape job, along with junior Nicky Davis’ determination, were all that separated Plymouth’s gymnastics team from a return trip to regionals.
Having put up its best two meet scores of the year in the last week of the regular season, Plymouth was hoping its luck would continue at sectional Saturday. Then with less than five minutes to go in practice Friday, the Pilgrims were concerned that their luck may have rolled away when co-No. 1 gymnast Davis rolled her ankle on the last routine of their final practice.
But Davis dug down to earn a fourth-place individual finish in the all-around, leading the Pilgrims to a solid runner-up finish and a repeat regional berth at the 11-team Wawasee Sectional Saturday.
“My first thought was you have got to be kidding me,” said PHS head coach Tony McPherron of Davis’ injury Friday. “Nicky had a bad ankle sprain last year and missed several meets but was able to come back and helped lead us to regionals for the first time in several years. This year she has been healthy all season, and I couldn’t believe she got hurt the night before sectionals.”
“It hurt Friday pretty bad,” said Davis. “I iced it that night and on the way Saturday. Doctor (McPherron) taped it up really tight before we started. It was sore, but what can you do? You still have to go out and compete and keep your focus. This sport is very hard on us physically, and there was no way I was going to let my teammates down. They worked too hard for me to be the reason we didn’t move on as team.”
Angola won with a score of 106.175, while Plymouth scored its highest total of the year with a 100.925 for second place, and third-place Dekalb posted a 99.85 to round out the top three.
The Pilgrims began their day on vault — normally their highest scoring event — and posted a 26.35. The score was over half a point higher than their season average on the event, but McPherron felt it should have been a bit higher.
“Nicky did probably her best vault of the year and got what I thought was a low score (8.95). But that is what happens early in a meet,” he said. “Typically the first groups on each event get lower scores and the last few teams on each event get higher scores. Judges seem to be hesitant to award high scores early on in a meet. I don’t agree with it, but it is what it is.
“I was hoping we would make it up on beam and floor which would be our last two events,”McPherron continued. “I made the decision also before the meet to compete Rachael Principe. She had been hurt all season and hadn’t vaulted once this year for us. But she looked great this past week in practice, and it paid off for us with her posting our third highest individual’s score of the season with her 8.5.”
Plymouth then moved on to the uneven bars and again broke its season average, this time by over a full point with a 24.75.
Davis and sophomore Cassi Quissell each turned in great performances that at the end of the day would net them fourth and fifth place finishes respectively in the event, which was won by defending state champion Alex Nickel from Angola.
Nickel, who is also the defending state champion on beam, had led her team into first place after two events and well on the way to winning the team championship.
“I told the girls on Friday if we could beat Dekalb we would move on to regionals. We knew coming in Angola was most likely going to win. They have been a top- five or 10 team all year when Alex has been healthy,” said McPherron. “We felt it would be us, Dekalb and Elkhart Central fighting it out for the remainder of the top three spots. Dekalb won last year and has beaten us twice already this season at invitationals but it was close each time. I felt really good with where we were after two events. We were clicking on each event and had what I thought was a comfortable lead.”
Up next for the Pilgrims was the balance beam, an event that was in question up to the start of the meet.
Plymouth warmed up six girls for beam despite only being able to compete four as McPherron was worried about who could stay on the apparatus. After the dust settled in warm-ups, the coach went with his top four lineup of Davis, Quissell, freshman Karly Gruett and senior Traci Longanecker.
The first two girls up for the Pilgrims unfortunately didn’t manage to stay on the beam which put a small chink in the armor of the Plymouth lead. \However, Quissell and Davis both managed to complete no fall routines and ended up scoring well enough to finish third and fourth on the event respectively.
With Plymouth needing only to have an average performance on floor to maintain its second-place position, things started well for the Pilgrims. Gruett led off with a 7.5 and was followed by Longanecker tying her career personal best with an 8.65. As the last team to go on floor, McPherron knew Longanecker’s score was good enough to place her in sixth unless she was to be beaten by her fellow teammates Davis and Quissell, who would finish off the day for Plymouth.
“They flashed Traci’s score during the middle of Nicky’s routine, and I was very happy,” said McPherron. “Nicky was having a great floor routine at the time and based upon Traci’s score I thought for sure Nicky would place top three or four. She looked great. So did Cassi in her routine.They posted Nicky’s score when Cassi was going and I got a little worried.”
Davis posted only an 8.35 on the event and Quissell just an 8.45. It was Davis’ second lowest score of the season and Quissell’s lowest score by almost a full point.
“Quite honestly I thought they flashed the wrong scores,” said the Plymouth skipper. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw them, especially after the way we started the meet (on vault) with scoring. Not to take anything away from Traci as I thought she did great, but her start value is only 9.4 where Cassi and Nicky both start at 10.0. That means they (the judges) found double the deductions in their routines than they did in Traci’s. Neither I nor two other coaches saw them, but it is what it is. That’s the frustrating part of this sport at times, especially for the girls as they both thought they did great routines.”
With the low scores on floor, Plymouth had to then sweat out the finish of the sectional with Dekalb and Elkhart closing on the vault, where most teams score their highest event total.
As if having to deal with the defending state beam and bars champion in their sectional weren’t enough for the Pilgrims, they now get to travel to Valparaiso on Friday night for the regionals where Nickel will be joined by the defending vault, floor, and all-around champion Morgan Algonzini from Valpo.
In addition to Angola, Plymouth and Dekalb, the other teams vying for the regional title include No. 3-ranked and defending state runners-up Valpo, which has won four of the last five and nine overall state titles, No. 1-ranked Portage and No. 7 Crown Point. The regionals begin at 7 pm EST.
• WAWASEE SECTIONAL
Team Scores: Angola 106.175, Plymouth 100.925, Dekalb 99.85, Wawasee 98.025, Lakeland 96.675, Elkhart Central 94.375, Warsaw 93.25, East Noble 89.525, West Noble 74.425, Hamilton 37.125, Tippy Valley 26.550
Plymouth Individual Scores (Places in parenthesis)
Vault Bars Beam Fx AA
Traci Longanecker 8.35 6.5 7.025 8.65(6) 30.525
Nicky Davis 8.95(8) 9.0(4) 8.85(4) 8.35(10) 35.15(4)
Cassi Quissell 8.9(10) 8.875(5) 8.875(3) 8.45(9) 35.10(5)
Karly Gruett 6.875 7.5
Rachael Principe 8.5
Brycelyn Garza 6.050