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Gymnasts counting on continuing upward trend

Leading the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis gymnastics team this season are seniors (clockwise from top left) Erin Tooker, Olivia Ulvin, Brianna Nelson and Katie Eischens. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

With seven letterwinners returning, new head coach Cyrus Gust is counting on the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis gymnastics team to continue a recent trend of seeing an increase in skills.

Gust, who served as the Panthers' assistant coach for the last four years, has a veteran lineup back from a team that finished sixth at the Section 8A meet with a season-best 122.525 ponts.

Leading the Panthers this season are seniors Katie Eischens, Brianna Nelson, Erin Tooker and Olivia Ulvin; and eighth graders Natalie Backmann, Halle Landstrom and Morgan Koppelman. That group helped the Panthers average a 31.72 in vault, a 29.21 in floor exercise, a 28.07 on balance beam and a 25.38 on uneven parallel bars with a 114.28 team average in 11 meets last season. Park Rapids will enter the season looking to top last year's top scores of 33.15 in vault, 32.25 in floor, 31.00 on beam and 28.525 on bars.

Landstrom returns as the team's top all-around performer after posting a 29.06 average in nine meets last season. Landstrom had averages of 8.06 in vault, 7.81 in floor, 7.01 on beam and 6.15 on bars with highs of 8.80 in vault, 8.50 in floor, 7.95 on beam and 6.75 on bars with a top all-around score of 31.55. Landstrom placed 18th in all-around at the section meet by finishing 23rd in floor, 27th in vault, 28th on beam and 31st on bars.

Koppelman finished as the Panthers' No. 2 all-around gymnast with a 29.06 average with a high of 30.20. Koppelman competed in all 11 meets and had averages of 7.67 in vault, 7.56 in floor, 6.83 on beam and 6.71 on bars with high scores of 8.15 in vault, 7.90 in floor, 7.65 on beam and 7.475 on bars. Koppelman placed 20th in all-around at the section meet by placing 21st on bars, 27th in floor, 35th in vault and 40th on beam.

Tooker was the team's top all-around finisher at the section meet by placing 15th. Tooker was 20th on beam, 25th in floor, 26th on bars and 31st in vault. Tooker posted averages of 8.09 in vault, 7.88 in floor, 7.81 on beam and 7.01 on bars with high marks of 8.50 on beam, 8.30 in vault, 8.05 in floor and 7.40 on bars. Tooker competed in at least seven meets in vault, on beam and on bars.

Eischens competed in seven meets on bars and three meets in floor with averages of 7.77 in floor and 6.76 on bars. Eischens had season highs of 8.15 in floor and 7.30 on bars while placing 23rd in floor and 26th on bars at the section meet.

Nelson tied for 31st in vault at the section meet and finished the season with an 8.00 average in that event with a high of 8.35 in 11 meets.

Ulvin finished 25th on beam at the section meet while compiling averages of 6.99 in floor (with a high of 7.70 in nine meets) and 6.37 on beam (with a high of 7.60 in seven meets).

Backmann posted averages of 7.64 in vault, 6.46 on beam, 5.82 in floor and 6.30 on bars with highs of 800 in vault, 7.20 on beam, 6.40 in floor and 6.00 on bars and had a 27.025 in her only all-around effort. Backmann placed 37th on beam and 38th on bars at the section meet and was a varsity competitor in at last five meets in vault, on bars and on beam.

Also returning with varsity experience are sophomore Abby Kirlin and freshmen Amelia Berg and Valarie Tooker. Freshman Chelsea Dennis and eighth graders Ally Holmer, McKenzie Hagen and Shelby Billing Kelly could also see varsity time this season. That group will look to fill in for last year's senior Alex Kirlin, who placed 37th in floor at the section meet while compiling a 6.59 average in floor (with a high of 7.30) and a 6.52 average on beam (with a high of 7.35).

Detroit Lakes won the section title with 152.375 points and went on to win the state Class A title for the fourth year in a row. In addition to Detroit Lakes, Perham (No. 8), Fergus Falls (No. 23) and Alexandria (No. 24) were rated in last year's final state Class A poll from Section 8A.

"We have a lot of talented girls on this roster and most of these girls are capable of competing for a varsity spot. We have been on an upward trend for several years and I would like to continue that by seeing some new skills competed, last year's skills refined and a strong team unity," said Gust, who will be assisted by Matt Backmann and Nicole Eischens. "This team has a lot of fight in them and are hungry to advance in this sport. They don't back down from a challenge. They work hard and push one another. The girls would love to eclipse their team high score from last year. We also want to see more of our junior varsity athletes competing and we want to get an academic award at sections this year. I'm proud to be their coach and I'm very excited to see what they can do this season."

SEASON SCHEDULE

Dec. 4 - at Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 - vs. Bemidji, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13 - vs. Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m.

Jan. 5 - Park Rapids Invitational, 12 noon. Jan. 12 - at Moorhead Invitational, 11 a.m. Jan. 15 - vs. Perham, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 - at Detroit Lakes, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 7 - at Bemidji, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16 - Section 8A meet at Perham.