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Gymnasts show major improvements

Olivia Fischer capped off her senior season by leading the team with highest averages on balance beam, in vault, in floor exercise and in all-around while being named the Panthers' Most Valuable Gymnast. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Head coach Rebecca Penning and assistant coach Cyrus Gust could see the progress the members of the Park Rapids-Nevis gymnastics team made all season.

Other coaches noticed it as well.

Despite battling injuries and illnesses, the Panthers improved their team score in each of the first eight meets and ended the season by placing seventh out of nine teams at the Section 8A meet. All those improvements didn't go unnoticed as Penning was named the Section 8A Coach of the Year.

Of the Panthers' 11 gymnasts who competed on varsity this season, only one competed in all 10 meets while three others performed in nine meets. Despite not having their best lineup all season, the Panthers made major progress in every event.

Last season, Park Rapids had a high team score of 114.60 and ended the season by placing eighth at the section meet with a 108.00. The Panthers had averages of 28.16 in floor exercise, 26.46 on balance beam, 22.29 on uneven parallel bars and 31.59 in vault for an average team score of 108.50.

This season, the Panthers increased their average team score to a 115.35, highlighted by a season high of 123.825 and a 117.00 at the section meet. Park Rapids' averages increased to 29.61 in floor, 28.08 on beam, 25.28 on bars and 32.38 in vault.

"This year I was more impressed than ever with our gymnastics season. This group of girls made some of the biggest gains we have seen in years. Their individual and team scores definitely showed the improvements we've been making both in practice and in our performance," said Penning. "As a coach, it's always fun to watch the bond that develops as scores rise and goals are reached. It led to a boldness within our team I've never seen before."

Leading the Panthers to a successful season were seniors Olivia Fischer and Jasmine Cease; junior Randi Nielsen; sophomores Katie Eischens and Erin Tooker; and eighth grader Abby Kirlin. Also competing on varsity were junior Alex Kirlin; sophomores Shelby Leckner and Olivia Ulvin; and seventh graders Amelia Berg and Grace Litzau.

The Panthers opened the season with a 134.60-106.225 loss to Bemidji with scores of 31.75 in vault, 28.35 in floor, 24.00 on beam and 22.125 on bars and a 135.00-109.85 loss to Perham with scores of 32.05 in vault, 26.30 in floor, 26.20 on beam and 25.30 on bars.

Park Rapids received scores of 32.05 in vault, 28.20 in floor, 27.00 on beam and 24.95 on bars in a 119.05-112.20 loss to Detroit Lakes' junior varsity team and followed by placing fourth at the Park Rapids Invitational with a 113.85 with scores of 31.75 in vault, 28.95 in floor, 26.95 on bars and 26.20 on beam. The 26.95 on bars would end up being a season high. Alexandria took first in the four-team meet with a 133.75.

The Panthers continued to improve with a 116.75-111.20 win over Fargo as scores of 32.60 in vault, 30.70 in floor, 28.20 on beam and 25.25 on bars helped Park Rapids snap a 25-meet losing streak. The Panthers last posted a win over Frazee in February of 2013.

Detroit Lakes, the top-rated team among Class A schools, defeated the Panthers 151.75-117.95 and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle followed with a 126.575-120.20 victory. Park Rapids had scores of 33.30 in vault, 29.95 in floor, 28.70 on beam and 26.00 on bars against Detroit Lakes and posted scores of 32.35 in vault, 31.80 in floor, 30.85 on beam and 25.20 on bars against LP-GE. The 33.30 in vault would be the Panthers' best score in that event all season.

Posting season highs in floor and beam gave the Panthers' their highest team score of the season in a 151.075-123.825 loss to Detroit Lakes. A 32.875 in floor and a 31.50 on beam led the way to the Panthers' highest team score since recording a 124.90 at the 2009 Section 8A meet. Park Rapids also had a 32.95 in vault and a 26.50 on bars.

Park Rapids closed the regular season with a 136.40-115.60 loss to Bemidji behind a 32.70 in vault, a 29.60 on beam, a 29.00 in floor and a 24.30 on bars to finish with a 1-7 record in dual meets.

At the Section 8A meet, the Panthers used a 32.30 in vault, a 29.95 in floor, a 28.55 on beam and a 26.20 on bars for a 117.00 for seventh place. Detroit Lakes won the section title with a 151.95 to set a school record and went on to win the state Class A title for the third year in a row with a 151.675. Following Detroit Lakes in the section standings were Perham (143.65), Alexandria (138.575), Fergus Falls (138.325), LP-GE (129.15) and Morris Area (125.925). Rounding out the section standings were Little Falls (112.35) and Big Stone (109.65). Detroit Lakes ended the season rated No. 1 in the state while Perham was No. 6, Fergus Falls was No. 22 and Alexandria was No. 25.

"A few of the team goals that we accomplished this year were winning a meet, earning 25-plus team points on bars and scoring 120 points," said Penning. "Going from a team score of 106 to a 123 is not very common in our sport and I give these girls a lot of credit for the work they put in to get us there."

Fischer was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Gymnast and was the top all-around performer with a 31.14 average and a high of 32.375 in six meets. Fischer had the top team scores in vault with an 8.60 and an average of 8.39 and on beam with a 7.58 average and a high of 8.40 and led the way with a 7.75 average in floor. Fischer had a high of 8.375 in floor and had a high of 7.30 on bars with a 6.96 average. Fischer competed in nine meets in vault and on bars, eight meets on beam and six meets in floor. At the section meet, Fischer was 21st in all-around with a 30.40 with scores of 8.60 in vault (for 23rd place), 7.40 in floor (36th), 7.35 on beam (28th) and 7.05 on bars (28th).

Tooker was the only gymnast who competed in all 10 meets this season, leading the Panthers with a 7.02 average on bars with a high of 7.50 and posting a high of 8.50 in floor while finishing second on the team with a 29.60 all-around average with a high of 31.65. Tooker also had averages of 7.57 in floor, 7.97 in vault (with a high of 8.30) and 7.05 on beam (with a high of 7.95). At the section meet, Tooker took 23rd in all-around with a 29.45 with scores of 8.30 in vault (for 30th place), 7.65 in floor (32nd), 6.80 on beam (32nd) and 6.70 on bars (31st).

Abby Kirlin had Park Rapids' third-best all-around marks with a 27.06 average and a high of 28.90 in nine meets. Kirlin had averages of 8.11 in vault (with a high of 8.30), 6.97 in floor (with a high of 7.60), 6.91 on beam (with a high of 8.15) and 5.09 on bars (with a high of 5.30 in six meets). Kirlin competed at the section meet in all four events, placing 32nd on beam with a 6.95 and 35th in vault with an 8.10 while adding a 6.85 in floor and a 4.65 on bars to place 27th in all-around with a 26.55.

Eischens (who had to sit out last season with a foot injury) was a section competitor in three events, finishing 25th in floor with an 8.05, 25th on beam with a 7.45 and 34th on bars with a 6.30. Eischens competed in nine meets on bars with a 6.33 average and a high of 6.95, seven meets in floor with an 8.15 average and a high of 8.45 and in four meets on beam with a 7.65 average and a high of 7.90.

Nielsen missed the section meet, but competed in eight meets in vault with an 8.18 average and a high of 8.45, six meets on beam with a 6.99 average and a high of 8.20 and six meets in floor with a 6.63 average and a high of 7.20.

Cease capped off her senior season with a 7.30 in vault at the section meet. Cease had a 7.41 average in vault with a high of 7.90 in six meets, a 4.17 average and a high of 4.30 on bars in six meets, a 5.11 average and a high of 5.80 on beam in five meets and a 6.08 average with a high of 6.60 in three meets in floor. Cease tallied a 23.90 in her only all-around performance.

Berg ended the season by placing 35th on bars with a 6.15 and receiving a 6.55 on beam at the section meet. Berg competed on varsity three times on bars with a 6.13 average and a high of 6.55, twice in vault with a 7.68 average and a high of 7.80, twice on beam with a 6.63 average and a high of 6.70 and once in floor with a 6.00. Berg also had a 26.80 in her only all-around effort.

Leckner competed in the first three meets of the season before missing the rest of the season with an injury. In those meets, Leckner had averages of 8.00 in vault with a high of 8.00, 7.12 in floor with a high of 7.45, and 5.43 on bars with a high of 5.55. Leckner also had a 6.10 on beam and a 26.85 all-around score in one varsity meet.

Ulvin rounded out the Panthers' floor team with a 6.75 in her section debut. Ulvin made her varsity debut by competing four times in floor with a 6.99 average and a high of 7.30 and posting a 4.70 in her only appearance on beam.

Alex Kirlin competed in two varsity meets on beam, posting a 4.70 average with a high of 4.80.

Litzau also made her varsity debut, competing in three meets on bars with a 4.08 average and a high of 4.70.

Receiving other team awards were Fischer (Outstanding Leadership Award and Most Fearless), Cease (Most Spirited), Ulvin (Rookie of the Year and Most Improved), Eischens (co-Hardest Worker and Usually Upside Down), Berg (co-Hardest Worker), Abby Kirlin (Most Flexible) and Tooker (Most Coachable).

"Watching our seniors was a joy this year. They brought both talent and leadership and they will be greatly missed. Thankfully they've been great at teaching our younger athletes what dedication and hard work look like. Their shoes will be hard to fill," said Penning. "Next season we'll return with so much talent and a wealth of new athletes. Our Elites Program will be sending on many gymnasts as we're excited about what's ahead. It's a good day to be part of Panther Gymnastics. I could not be more proud to be the coach of this team."