Tracy Duncan and Karen Renner, the co-head gymnastics coaches at University High, have a routine when it comes to, well, gymnastics routines.
In the world of gymnastics, the many and varied elements that make up each routine all come with ratings based on skill and degree of difficulty. To score highly in each exercise – floor exercise, uneven bars, vault and balance beam – the gymnast must show a command and mastery of elements that merit higher values.
“We like to have our routines down by Christmas – New Year’s at the latest – so that our girls can compete with them during league and have them ready for regionals and we can work on them and fine-tune them during the season,” Duncan said.
Duncan and Renner, both top-level judges, are masters at helping their gymnasts correct those little problems that fellow judges love to make deductions over, beginning with a mere tenth of a point for minor infractions. A straight leg here, a pointed toe there can make all the difference.
“They love to squeeze the tenths out us,” Titan senior Moriah Knowles said.
That game plan works well for the Titans, who won last year’s Class 3A Eastern Regional team title over Kamiakin by just one-tenth of a point – one pointed toe sent the Titans to the Tacoma Dome for the state championship meet to compete for a team title.
But the game plan went out the window this year.
The 2012-’13 Titans returned four seniors, Knowles, Katelyn Nemitz, Taylor Rydeen and Jessica Vent-Gmeiner all of them three-year varsity gymnasts. But each was a specialist, competing in a couple of individual exercises. None had ever competed in a Greater Spokane League meet in all four events.
To return to the state meet, the quartet realized, they’d all need to compete for all-around honors.
“We lost two gymnasts who would have competed all-around,” said Nemitz, the team’s captain. “It wasn’t like we’d never done those other events, but we were each stronger in some events than in others and we concentrated on where we could help the team.
“I’m so impressed with how much we’ve accomplished this year. We’ve all come a long way. I think we’re all doing things we never dreamed we could do.”
In addition to expanding her repertoire, Rydeen said she’s just as intent on staying healthy. As a junior, she sprained an ankle on a tumbling run ahead of the state meet and competed in Tacoma in pain.
“It was painful landing on my vault,” she said. “But I wasn’t going to let my teammates down and I was pretty amped up on the competition so I was able to make it through.”
With just three weeks left before the state championship meet, some of the Titans are still working to perfect moves on various apparatus.
“We were at practice the other night and Karen came over to me and said that we have a couple kids who still have elements that we can’t put into their routines yet,” Duncan said. “They’re going to be going to regionals with elements that they’ve never thrown in competition before and that makes me nervous.”
Vent-Gmeiner, still working on a key element to her uneven bars routine, still remains confident.
“I’m close,” she said. “It’s almost there. It would be nice if I could use it in competition, but it will be OK. We all go so hard in practice and push each other so hard for our spots that it’s almost like being in a league meet.”
Knowles and Nemitz had to embrace the one event that gives most gymnasts sleepless nights: balance beam.
“Beam is the toughest event,” Rydeen said. “If you can stick your beam routine, you know you’re going to have a good meet.”
The pair placed second and third, respectively, on the beam at Wednesday’s meet involving the GSL’s Class 3A schools, effectively the league championship meet. Nemitz also placed third all-around at the meet, with Knowles fourth.
University won the meet, easily out-distancing Mt. Spokane. The Titans now have two weeks to prepare to face Kamiakin at the regional meet in the Tri-Cities for the area’s lone state meet berth.
“It’s kind of ironic that we are competing with Kamiakin,” Duncan said. “That program won a state team title just a couple seasons ago and that same year the school board voted to end the program. We want to beat them, but at the same time I hope they can find a way to keep that program going.”