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Richards soars to state meet

Michah Richards qualified for her first state class A gymnastics meet with a fourth-place 8.90 on balance beam during Saturday's Section 8A meet at Park Rapids. (Vance Carlson / Enterprise)

Micah Richards expected Saturday's Section 8A meet to be her final performance as a member of the Park Rapids-Nevis gymnastics team.

Instead, the Nevis senior earned an encore performance by qualifying for her first state Class A meet.

Richards claimed the fourth and final state berth on balance beam at the Area High School gym by tying her career best with an 8.90. Qualifying for her first state meet was a pleasant surprise for Richards.

"I didn't expect to make the top 10 in anything. I was preparing for it to be over. I just wanted to get my best scores and go out with a bang," said Richards. "Beam has always been my worst event. All season I would have one really good routine and then one really bad one. I thought beam would be the hardest one to go in. That was the one I least expected."

"It was definitely a surprise when Micah made it because beam is not one of her favorite events," said Park Rapids head coach Wendi Hartig. "We were really hoping someone would go. It's pretty exciting."

Entering Saturday's section meet, Richards was just looking to end her career with a solid performance in all four events.

The Nevis senior fulfilled that goal.

The Panthers opened the section meet in floor exercise where Richards received an 8.15. Richards ended up placing 13th in that event.

On uneven parallel bars, Richards received a 7.95, which would put her in 14th place.

Park Rapids moved to vault and Richards led the way with an 8.75. Richards ended up placing 11th in that event.

Going into the final rotation, Richards wasn't expecting to claim a state berth by finishing in the top four. Perham's Kelsi Vomacka had the top score of 9.525 while teammates Mikaela Eickschen (9.00) and Carly Peterson (8.975) followed. Perham's Jenna Schmitz held the No. 4 spot on beam with an 8.85.

"Before beam I was thinking that it's sad that it's almost all over," said Richards. "I hadn't watched anybody all day, so I didn't know what the scores were. I felt really good all day. I just wanted to stick everything. I felt really good during warm ups. I just wanted to have a clean routine. I was so excited when I was done. It felt like the best routine I had done all year."

Richards was ecstatic after seeing her score. However, Richards still didn't consider her 8.90 had earned her a state berth. Not until the medals for the top four finishers on beam were announced did Richards realize she had qualified for state.

"I was hoping to get eighth or ninth (on beam)," said Richards, who ended up placing eighth in all-around with a season high of 33.75. "I didn't realize I was going to state until they announced my name. I couldn't believe it."

Richards' best routine of the season proved to be good enough to extend her season. A week prior to the section meet, Richards didn't even imagine contending for a state berth on beam.

The last two meets prior to the section meet were an indication of how Richards' balance beam routine had gone all year.

In a dual meet against Bemidji, Richards received an 8.75 on beam. That was her second highest score of the season, just missing her career high of 8.90, which she performed in a dual meet against Perham in the fifth meet of the season.

A week later at the Mid-State Conference meet, Richards couldn't stay on the beam and received a 7.425. That was her second lowest score of the year, just above a 7.15 she received in a dual meet against Frazee.

Richards, who entered the section meet with an 8.00 average on beam in 11 meets this season, picked the perfect time to perform a perfect routine. Now Richards is hoping to cap off her senior season with one more solid performance Friday at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

"I'm not worried about her score," said Hartig. "State is tough. I hope she goes out with a routine she's happy with."

"It's an honor to be going there," said Richards, who had beam scores of 7.70 for 18th place at the 2007 section meet and 6.55 for 20th place at last year's section meet. "It's an honor to be one of the top gymnasts in the state in this event. I'm just going to go down there and have fun."