WATERFORD – It wasn’t their best score of the season. But it did yield the biggest reward.
Members of Waupun’s prep gymnastics team took second Thursday at a WIAA Division 2 sectional meet held at Waterford High School, sending them to next Friday and Saturday’s state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.
The top two teams at each of the five sectionals all advance to state, and Waupun (129.25) and champion Whitefish Bay (142.075) – one of the favorites to win the state title – were the two to advance from this sectional.
“There were a lot of good tears, camaraderie, and picture taking last night after the meet and on the bus – the girls are super excited to continue our season and represent Waupun at the state meet,” Waupun assistant head coach Emily Engelhardt said via email Friday afternoon. “We are a really young team (four freshman, two sophomores, only two seniors) and head coach Jane Neevel and I are really impressed and proud of how well this season has gone.
“When you lose the experience and maturity of three seniors like we did last year, it’s a ton of pressure for these underclassmen to step up, especially with a one-shot chance like the sectional meet. And they did great. The hard part is over, we made it to state. Now we’re just going to enjoy it.”
Waupun’s season-best score is 131.1, which it posted last Saturday at the Little Ten Conference meet. But Thurdsay’s 129.25 was plenty good enough to finish ahead of third-place Valders/Manitowoc Roncalli (126.4).
“We had some big highs and a few lows, but we are so proud of the girls for working through and pulling it out in the end,” Engelhardt said of that little bit of a dip in the team score from Saturday to Thursday.
The Lady Warriors, who are headed back to state for the second year in a row after last year’s first-ever state berth, did have a season-high score on the vault, though – and sophomore Eryn Hautamaki (fourth with a personal-best 8.7) and freshman Esabella Doege (fifth with an 8.5) both had the requisite top-five finish in order to qualify for individual competition in that event.
Megan Hansen and Sara Kroeze just missed making it individually, tying for sixth with matching 8.45s.
“I’ve been saying Eryn’s vault keeps getting better and better each meet, and last night was one of the best we’ve seen her do ever,” Engelhardt said. “What a time to hit! She deserves that trip to state.”
Engelhardt said the Lady Warriors struggled on the uneven bars but that Doege “improvised” after a “little mistake in her routine” and was able to tie for fifth with an 8.05.
Things got better for Waupun after that.
“After a little team pep talk and a round off, we went to beam, and Jane and I were very happy with how the girls recovered from bars,” Engelhardt said. “Sara Miller was first up and stuck her routine yet again, scoring a 7.8 which was good enough for 19th. That’s always a great way to set the tone for the team, and it’s why we always put her first. She’s consistent.”
Doege followed and took 18th with a 7.875, then later Hansen took 11th with an 8.45.
Last but definitely not least, “Sara Kroeze was our anchor and finished us out with a solid, no fall routine that earned a well deserved 9.0, placing fourth and advancing to state,” Engelhardt said. ““That was a huge lift for the team, and just when we needed it. She nailed it.”
Some mistakes in the floor exercise kept the Lady Warriors from hitting their full potential, but Grace Lenz and Kroeze led the way by tying for ninth with matching 8.275s.
The hiccups in the uneven bars and floor exercise left the Lady Warriors a little nervous as to whether they did enough to advance.
But good news was coming.
“The girls were sitting in a circle holding hands and all screamed when they announced (Valders/Roncalli as taking) third place and they knew they did it,” Engelhardt said.