Connecticut Wins 10th Anniversary NHSGA Senior Invite

The National High School Gymnastics Association held its 10th anniversary Senior Showcase Invitational in Fort Myers, Florida recently at the Estero Community Center. The team from Connecticut took top honors with a score of 149.025, the state’s first win since 1994, under a prior formation of the association.

Long time Team CT coach Bethany Mihaly has been waiting for this moment for a long time. “It was so amazing to watch their reactions when second place was announced. They really had no idea, but they tried not to squeal too loudly when Illinois was announced as runner up. I was very proud of the way they behaved and reacted. And of course, putting a different state’s name on the banner after ten years is special,” she added.

Team Illinois was second place over Team Massachusetts with a score of 147.400 to 147.300 – a narrow tenth of a point. New Jersey’s team was fourth with a 146.900.

Other states participating included fifth place Wisconsin (136.800), sixth place Washington (132.625), and seventh place Michigan (124.700). New Hampshire (104.075) and Rhode Island (78.350) took eighth and ninth places, respectively. The meet also featured a pair of competitors from Texas and one from Pennsylvania. Team New Jersey won the Sportsmanship Award at the meet with New Hampshire’s Rae Ann Chrane named Coach of the Meet.

Corrie Lothrop, the 2008 Olympic alternate and NCAA All American for the University of Utah, was a special guest at the meet. Lothrop was on hand to provide welcoming remarks to the gymnasts at their opening team banquet and to present medals at event finals. Corrie’s mother Joan coached high school gymnastics for many years in Danvers, MA and even served as association president until Corrie’s elite training took them to Hills Gymnastics in Maryland.

Lothrop told the girls gymnastics doesn’t end when you graduate high school or college.

“The life lessons and skills that you have learned stay with you. It taught me not to be afraid. Life choices and moving on to the next phase of life can be scary but gymnastics helps prepare you. You are never going to grow if you stay comfortable. One of the big things is that it really teaches you how to work with difficult people and situations — that is an important skill to develop when you are young,” she said.

Lothrop shared an experience competing on beam in Germany under the watchful eye of Martha Karolyi. She fell in the start of her routine but Lothrop had to find a way to show she could finish. “If you are competing on beam for Martha, you don’t fall,” Corrie said.

She finished her routine even though her series was almost off the side of the beam, but she didn’t fall again. Martha and everyone watching wondered how she managed to stay on for the rest of the routine.

“If you fight hard enough you can stay on,” said Corrie.

NHSGA president Marge Canfield said, “We were blessed to have former Olympian Corrie Lothrop come and talk to the girls about what gymnastics has taught her and where it has taken her. Corrie never competed on her high school team but views all gymnasts the same, working towards their dreams and goals. Something that stuck with me that she said is ‘don’t be afraid to be afraid;’ too often we won’t step out of our comfort zone due to fear of failure but without that fear and working through it we will never grow.”

The all-around ranking is determined from the scores on the first day of competition. Team CT’s Paige Stuyniski, who competed for Woodstock Academy, took first place with a 38.750. She will continue her gymnastics career at Texas Women’s in the future.  Illinois Gymnasts Aleah Leman (Dekalb HS) and Erin Bregman (Glenbard North HS) took second and third place honors. Leman posted a 38.625 and will compete at Lindenwood next year while Bregman notched a score of 37.45. Brianne Dombrowski of Team NJ took fourth with a 37.425 with CT’s Grace Logan (Woodstock Academy) rounding out the top five with a 36.800. Logan will continue to compete gymnastics at Bowling Green next year. Some other college programs with recruits at this meet include Ithaca, RIC, Springfield, Temple, and Southern Connecticut.

The top 15 in each event plus ties from the first day of competition compete in event finals on the second day of the Senior Invite. Medals are awarded based on the results of the second day since the scores don’t carry over. With each routine highlighted and judged by a panel of four judges, being a consistent gymnast who is well conditioned can make or break event finals. Some of the top competitors this year earned event finals qualifications in all four events.

Top finishers in the vault finals included gold medalist Aleah Leman of Team IL with a 9.65 and silver medalist Paige Stuyniski of Team CT with 9.55. Team CT’s Grace Logan and Team Massachusetts’ Chloe Covell tied for third with a 9.425, and Christa Vaccaro of Team Mass rounded out the top 5 with a 9.35.

Leman also took the gold medal on bars scoring a 9.575. The bars silver medalist was Paige Stuyniski with a 9.50. Julie Schaffer of Team Mass (9.40), Grace Logan of Team CT (9.35), and Kaitlyn McDonald of Team Mass (9.30) rounded out the top five in that event.

Paige Stuyniski of Team CT took top honors on beam with a 9.65. Other girls placing in the top five included NJ’s Brianne Dombrowski (9.525), Aleah Leman of Illinois (9.50), NJ’s Hannah Prieto (9.40) and Team Mass gymnast Keara Loughlin (9.375).

The top five on Floor included Leman (9.675), Covell (9.50), Logan (9.475), Melanie Coleman of Team CT (9.425), and Lauren Hansen of Team Mass (9.40).

Although the senior invite is at its core a competition among some top notch high school gymnasts, great friendships are formed at this meet. Rivals from the same state can find themselves competing at the senior invite for their home state honor. Additionally, each state is also paired with another Sister State at the opening team dinner and during the meet. The Sister States make good luck signs that decorate the gym on meet day, do fun gifts or share activities after the meet finishes.

“The meet brings gymnasts AND coaches from all around the country together for the love of our sport,” noted Canfield.  “It is a ‘last hurrah’ for many of the gymnasts as they will not be competing in college. It has brought rivals together. I have had gymnasts from different high school teams come together to compete for Team WI become best friends, college roommates, and even be in each other’s wedding. We have been told by MANY parents of high level gymnasts that this meet, the SSI, is the best meet they have ever competed at due to the camaraderie of the gymnasts and coaches.”

In addition to the high caliber gymnastics that happens at the showcase the event has a huge impact on the local economy.  Meet Coordinator Mike Martin estimated the showcase brings about $298,000 of tourism dollars into the region.

The NHSGA, in addition to hosting the showcase, annually awards All American Academic, All Around and Individual Event Recognition to HS Gymnasts who meet the criteria. They also added a scholarship program several years ago for students whose coaches hold membership in the Association.

For complete results or more information about the NHSGA and their programs, visit their website. Also, don’t miss ABC 7’s coverage of the event, which you can check out here.

Article by Rae Ann Chrane

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