After posting some historic numbers a year ago, Cyrus Gust is setting even loftier goals for the Park Rapids-Nevis gymnastics team this season.
Last season, the Panthers broke the school record in vault, had their highest mark on balance beam since the 2008-09 season, posted their highest team score since 2003 and earned their highest mark in floor exercise since the 1997-98 season.
Park Rapids’ top team score was a 127.40, which was the best mark since a 128.40 at the 2003 Section 8A meet. The Panthers posted a 35.375 in vault to break the school record (since vaulting scores were revised in 1992) of 35.20 set in 1996. Park Rapids also had a 33.80 in floor exercise for the best mark since a 34.45 during the 1997-98 season and had a 31.90 on balance beam for the best score since a 32.45 during the 2008-09 season.
The Panthers ended the season with a 2-5 record in dual meets and by placing sixth at the Section 8A meet with a 124.45. With 10 letterwinners (including all nine that competed at the section meet) returning, the Park Rapids head coach is counting on another successful season this winter.
“We have more depth this year than I have ever had since starting in Park Rapids. Last year, we had the youngest section team that I have ever coached and every one of those girls will be back and competing for varsity spots this year,” said Gust. “These girls are dedicated to this sport and willing to put in the work. Healthy competition for varsity spots is going to be a big deal this year and it will absolutely push the girls to get better and reach higher.”
Being counted on to lead the Panthers this season are senior Abby Kirlin; junior Ally Holmer; sophomores Natalie Backmann, Morgan Koppelman, Halle Landstrom and Jordyn Novak; and eighth graders Emma Berghuis, Natalie Berghuis, Shailyn Hayes and Erica Johnson.
At the section meet, Landstrom placed 10th and Koppelman finished 14th in all-around. Landstrom finished 11th in floor, tied for 12th on beam, placed 19th in vault and finished 21st on bars while Koppelman was 18th in vault, 21st in floor, 23rd on bars and 27th on beam.
In vault, Kirlin led the Panthers by placing 10th with Natalie Berghuis (15th) and Novak (35th) following. The other competitors in floor were Johnson (30th), Hayes (31st) and Kirlin (34th) while Kirlin (22nd), Johnson (30th) and Hayes (31st) completed the Panthers’ beam team. Rounding out the bars unit were Johnson (28th), Holmer (32nd) and Backmann (34th).
Landstrom was the team’s top all-around performer last season with a 33.00 average and a high of 34.70. In 11 meets, Landstrom had averages of 8.74 in vault (with a high of 8.90), 8.70 in floor (with a high of 9.35), 7.99 on beam (with a high of 8.60) and 7.56 on bars (with a high of 8.05).
Koppelman was second in all-around with a 31.06 average and a high of 32.50. Koppelman also competed in all 11 meets, posting averages of 8.39 in vault (with a high of 8.80), 8.01 in floor (with a high of 8.50), 7.40 on beam (with a high of 8.30) and 7.22 on bars (with a high of 7.50).
Johnson competed in all-around in four meets with a high of 27.90 and an average of 26.06. Johnson had a 6.08 average and a high of 7.00 in 11 meets on bars, a 6.87 average and a high of 7.85 in nine meets in floor, a 6.375 average with a high of 7.00 in six meets on beam and a 7.63 average with a high of 7.95 in five meets in vault.
Backmann was the Panthers’ other all-around performer, competing three times in all four events with a high of 26.55 and an average of 26.00. Backman competed in all 11 meets on bars with a high of 5.90 and an average of 5.23, was a member of the beam team in nine meets with a high of 7.90 and an average of 6.78 and a competitor in floor eight times with a high of 7.90 and an average of 6.67. Backmann also had a 7.63 average and a high of 7.70 in three varsity meets in vault.
Kirlin competed in 10 meets in both vault and floor, compiling an 8.24 average in vault with a high of 9.025 and a 7.29 average in floor with a high of 8.05. Kirlin also had a 6.87 average with a high of 8.00 in nine meets on beam.
Holmer was a varsity competitor on bars 10 times with a 6.29 average and a high of 7.00 while posting a 6.175 average and a high of 6.85 in two meets on beam.
Emma Berghuis competed in eight meets in vault with a high of 8.30 and an average of 7.92, Hayes had averages of 6.70 on beam (with a high of 7.30 in six meets) and 6.86 in floor (with a high of 7.45 in five meets), Novak posted an 8.04 average with a high of 8.25 in five meets in vault, and Natalie Berghuis had a 5.89 average with a high of 6.50 in three meets on beam.
Also back after seeing some varsity action are junior Valarie Tooker; freshman Lauren Cunningham; and eighth graders Erin Hansen, Rachel Ulvin and Laney Vrieze. All of those gymnasts competed on varsity in various events once.
For the season, the Panthers had averages of 33.47 in vault, 30.94 in floor, 29.07 on beam and 27.24 on bars with a team average of 120.72.
Rounding out this year’s varsity and junior varsity rosters are junior Arlene Plaza Calderon; sophomores Alexis Graff, Emma Vrieze, Erica Sellin and Massie Lee; eighth graders Brandi Novak, Ella Ehler and Nora Bolton; and seventh graders Grace Officer and Morrowa Schoeberl.
“I think our strength lies within the grit and determination of our team. We understand we don't have the best gym and the best equipment, but we aren't going to let that stop us from giving everything we have against some of the top teams in the state who are in our section,” said Gust, who will be assisted by Matt Backmann and Katie Eischens. “At the end of the day when the dust settles, if we can say we fought our hearts out, I will be proud to be part of Panther gymnastics, regardless of scores.”
Gust is looking for the Panthers to once again close the gap on the top teams in the section. At last year’s Section 8A meet, the Panthers had a 124.45 in the eight-team field. Perham claimed the section title with a 145.875 to edge out Melrose’s 145.075 and Detroit Lakes’ 144.15. Fergus Falls was fourth with a 130.35 and Little Falls took fifth with a 125.925. Following the Panthers were Morris Area with a 117.80 and Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville with a 92.875. Perham (No. 2), Melrose (No. 3), Detroit Lakes (No. 9) and Fergus Falls (No. 25) were rated in the final state Class A poll. Top-ranked Big Lake defeated Perham for the state Class A title.
“One of my goals for this year is to be smart in how we train. With a lot of down time and a short season, there will be a tendency to want to be reckless and take risks. For my varsity athletes, I think a team score of 128 is attainable, if we can stay healthy. I also want to have a JV score of over 100 and to make sure every girl who is on the roster competes,” said Gust. “I think keeping my team healthy will be a challenge, but crucial for ending our season at sections on a high note. I think we have the ability to surprise some people with the skills we are working and we might be closer than ever before to some of those higher scoring teams.”