Gymnasts closing the gap on the competition

Cyrus Gust knew he inherited a talented group when he took over as the head coach of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis gymnastics team. Even Gust was a little surprised at how well this group performed in his first season as the head coach. "Overall,...

Morgan Koppelman competed in all nine varsity meets for the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis gymnastics team this season, posting a 30.50 all-around average. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Cyrus Gust knew he inherited a talented group when he took over as the head coach of the Park Rapids-Menahga-Nevis gymnastics team.

Even Gust was a little surprised at how well this group performed in his first season as the head coach.

"Overall, I think my first year went well. My prior experience with the program really helped the transition to head coach. The gymnasts and I know each other well and there is a mutual trust there that I think is vital to the success of any team," said Gust, who served as the Panthers' assistant coach the last four years. "I knew these girls were capable of some incredible things, but I couldn't have predicted the success that these gymnasts would have across multiple facets. They competed skills and hit scores that haven't been seen in the program for decades and executed some skills that have never been competed in a Panther uniform. They have had the courage to take the first steps towards a level of gymnastics that I hope to make the standard for Park Rapids, Nevis, Menahga gymnastics."

The Panthers opened the season with a 111.85 team score to place fifth at the five-team Morris Invitational. New London-Spicer took first with a 132.85.

In the dual opener against Detroit Lakes, the Panthers increased their team score in a 147.90-118.425 loss to the state's No. 1-rated team. Park Rapids followed with another new high in a 140.475-120.525 loss to Bemidji.


After Detroit Lakes' junior varsity team posted a 122.15-120.85 victory, the Panthers placed third at the five-team Park Rapids Invitational with 124.15 points as Fergus Falls led the field with a 130.55. Park Rapids then placed second at the three-team Moorhead Invitational with a 123.00 as Fargo Davies took first with a 129.80.

In a dual meet against Perham, the Panthers hit their season high in a 143.65-126.55 loss. That point total was the highest for Park Rapids since a 128.40 in 2003. The Panthers ended the regular season with a 142.30-122.50 loss to Bemidji, which ended up being ranked No. 8 in the state Class AA poll with a 142.60 average.

At the Section 8A meet at Perham, the Panthers received a 123.325 to place sixth. Detroit Lakes repeated as section champs with a 152.325 and went on to win the state Class A title for the fifth year in a row.

In addition to the 126.55 team score, the Panthers' top event scores were a 34.20 in vault, a 33.95 in floor exercise, a 30.775 on balance beam and a 29.10 on uneven parallel bars. The 34.20 in vault was the team's highest since a 34.20 in 2005, the 33.95 in floor was the team's highest since a 34.45 in 1998, and the 29.10 on bars was the best since a 29.40 in 2010. Park Rapids finished the season with averages of 32.94 in vault, 31.94 in floor, 29.81 on beam and 26.55 on bars for a 121.24 team average.

In comparison, the Panthers had high scores of 33.15 in vault, 32.25 in floor, 31.00 on beam and 28.525 on bars and a 122.525 team score with averages of 31.72 in vault, 29.21 in floor, 28.07 on beam and 25.38 on bars with a team average of 114.28.

Leading the Panthers to their successful season were seniors Katie Eischens, Brianna Nelson, Erin Tooker and Olivia Ulvin; sophomore Abby Kirlin; freshman Ally Holmer; and eighth graders Natalie Backmann, Morgan Koppelman and Halle Landstrom. Eischens and Ulvin served as captains. Also seeing some varsity action this season were freshmen Amelia Berg, Chelsea Dennis and Val Tooker; and eighth graders McKenzie Hagen and Shelby Billing Kelly.

Eight of those gymnasts capped off the season at the section meet. Erin Tooker placed 14th in all-around with scores of 8.70 in vault (13th), 8.50 in floor (22nd), 7.40 on bars (21st) and 7.35 on beam (25th) for a 31.95. Landstrom was 16th in all-around as scores of 8.75 in floor (17th), 8.55 in vault (17th), 8.025 on beam (19th) and 6.15 on bars (28th) led to a 31.475. Koppelman placed 18th in all-around with a 30.50 behind scores of 8.35 in vault (22nd), 8.20 in floor (24th), 7.00 on bars (23rd) and 6.95 on beam (27th).

Rounding out the Panthers' 33.65 team score in vault were Kirlin (29th with an 8.05) and Nelson (30th with an 8.00). In floor, Ulvin's 7.75 (31st) and Kirlin's 7.65 (32nd) completed Park Rapids' 33.20. Eischens (20th with a 7.85) and Ulvin (33rd with a 5.50) rounded out the Panthers' 30.175 on beam. Holmer (31st with a 5.75) and Eischens (32nd with a 5.70) helped give Park Rapids a 26.30 on bars.


Following Detroit Lakes in the section standings were Perham (147.75), Fergus Falls (134.90), Alexandria (133.375) and Little Falls (125.45). Morris finished seventh with a 118.375. Detroit Lakes was rated No. 1 the whole season and ended the season with a 151.325 average while Perham (No. 6 at 143.992), Fergus Falls (No. 22 at 134.675) and Alexandria (No. 23 at 134.092) were rated in the top 25 in the final state Class A poll.

Erin Tooker was named the Panthers' Most Valuable Gymnast after posting an all-around average of 31.55 with a high of 32.20 in six meets. Tooker had averages of 8.49 in vault (with a high of 8.90), 8.13 in floor (with a high of 8.80), 7.71 on beam (with a high of 8.10) and 7.23 on bars (with a high of 7.50).

Landstrom was the Panthers' top all-around performer with a 31.86 average and a high of 32.90 while competing in all nine meets. Landstrom posted averages of 8.60 in vault (with a high of 9.05), 8.58 in floor (with a high of 8.80), 7.90 on beam (with a high of 8.375) and 6.78 on bars (with a high of 7.60).

Koppelman posted a 30.50 all-around average with a high of 31.50 while also competing in all nine meets. Koppelman had averages of 8.18 in vault (with a high of 8.70), 7.93 in floor (with a high of 8.55), 7.32 on beam (with a high of 8.00) and 7.08 on bars (with a high of 7.65).

Eischens competed in six meets on bars (with an average of 6.37 and a high of 6.64), four meets on beam (with an average of 7.79 and a high of 8.00) and three meets in floor (with an average of 7.85 and a high of 8.30). Eischens also posted a 7.95 in her one varsity meet in vault and had a 29.65 all-around score in one meet.

Ulvin was a member of the Panthers' floor team in eight meets, posting an average of 7.26 with a high of 7.90. Ulvin also had a 6.45 average and a high of 7.40 in two meets on beam.

Nelson competed in vault in three meets, posting a high of 8.10 and an average of 8.20.

Kirlin posted an average of 8.03 (with a high of 8.10) in eight meets in vault, a 7.48 average (with a high of 7.70) in seven meets in floor and an average of 6.73 (with a high of 7.90) in five meets on beam.


Holmer competed in eight meets on bars with a high of 6.15 and an average of 5.31. Holmer also had a 6.08 average (with a high of 6.45) in two meets on beam.

Backmann competed in all-around in two meets, posting a 24.68 average with a high of 26.25. Backmann was a varsity competitor on beam six times (with a 5.91 average and a high of 6.80) and bars (with a 5.16 average and a high of 5.65) and competed in vault three times (with a 7.43 average and a high of 7.70). Backmann also had an average of 6.88 in floor with a high of 7.05 in two meets.

Hagen (7.37 average with a high of 8.10) and Val Tooker (7.83 average with a high of 7.90) both competed in vault in three varsity meets. Berg competed in two meets on beam (with a 6.85 average and a high of 7.50) while Dennis (6.40 in floor and 4.00 on beam) and Kelly Billing (5.00 on beam) competed in one varsity meet each.

Other team awards went to Ulvin (Outstanding Leadership), Nelson (Most Spirited), Koppelman (Hardest Worker), Dennis (Most Improved), Holmer (Most Coachable) and eighth grader Jordyn Novak (Rookie of the Year).

In addition to excelling during competition, the Panthers excelled in the classroom to earn a gold academic award.

"Our gymnasts wanted both a high level of gymnastics and academics this season. They crushed that goal with a cumulative GPA of 3.957," said Gust. "They had a fantastic team camaraderie that helped push them through tough workouts and tough situations. I think that team unity was a key factor in our success. I also can't say enough positive things about my coaching staff and booster club. Their dedication and hard work was a huge part of a great season."

Even though the Panthers have four key spots to fill, Gust is counting on continued improvement from his team next season.

"Each of my seniors has contributed so much to this program over the years. Watching them grow into gymnasts and strong leaders for this team has been special. Each of them was able to showcase their unique personalities through their gymnastics and leadership styles this year. Their influence will continue to be seen in the future success of Panther gymnastics for years to come," said Gust. "Next year will be tough to move on without our seniors, but we still have a strong group of gymnasts who I believe will shine when it is their turn to step into more of a leadership role. Continuing their development of gymnastics skills and as team leaders will be a priority of our offseason. We also have a solid group of seventh graders who will take the floor next season. Getting them acclimated to the team and prepared for competitive gymnastics will be a major focal point during the offseason and this coming season. I am excited to put the experience from my first year to good use, learn from it and come back next year as a better coach. Next year we are excited to continue to progress as a program and team. We want to give Park Rapids, Nevis and Menahga something to be proud of and close the gap between other gymnastics powerhouses in our section."


1982 Dawson-Boyd High School graduate
1987 Moorhead State University graduate
Sports reporter for Park Rapids Enterprise since 1987
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