Gymnasts ‘have fun,’ win section title

New Prague High School teams won section championships last week and are headed for state tournament action. Above the Trojan gymnastics team won the Section 2A championship Friday evening, Feb. 15, at Watertown-Mayer. The team is headed for the State Class A gymnastics meet, to be held at 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. (Chuck Kajer Photo)

When asked to describe the 2013 New Prague High School gymnastics team at the start of the season, Coach Matt Shetka said “This group has a really positive attitude and seems to have a lot of fun working together.”

After finishing second at last year’s state tournament, the theme for this year was “Unfinished Business.” The team set its sights on picking up a 13th section championship in 14 years and winning the school’s fourth state championship.

But less than a month into the season, the Trojans suffered a big setback as Shetka died of a heart attack. The loss of the longtime mentor hit hard. Still, the team did not waver from its goal and on Friday, Feb. 15, they used the positive attitude Shetka had described to win the Section 2A championship.

On Friday, Feb. 22, the Trojans will compete at the State Class A team competition at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion, knowing that the goal is within their grasp.

“We got off to a good start on the floor excercise, and we just kept the momentum going in the other events,” Coach Doug Amundsen said.

“The girls were loose and were having fun.”

The Trojans opened on the floor, which has been one of their strongest events all season. Breanna Ellanson set the bar high, scoring a 9.05 with her routine. Her four teammates followed and all topped that score. Bridget Ellanson had her season high on the event, scoring a 9.625 to take first place, while Jamie Niedermayer was second with a 9.4. Both qualified for state. Sarah Hoffman finished sixth with a 9.375, while Jess Niedermayer scored 9.25.

”Bridget is so powerful,” Amundsen said. “She is finally learning how to control that power. and it’s really paying off for her.”

Amundsen added that he was “Absolutely pleased with our start. When you start with a 9.05 and then get to throw that score out, you know you’ve done well.”

In team scoring, the top four scores from the five competitors count toward the team’s total.

The Trojans’ next event was vault, where they were again able to throw a way a 9. The Trojans had four of the top six places, with three individuals qualifying for state. Hoffman was second at 9.675, Jaimie Niedermayer was third at 9.425 and Sydney Samson was fourth at 9.4. Meghan Dubanoski was fifth at 9.375 and Bridget Ellanson had a 9.0.

“We kept the wheels rolling,” Amundsen said. “Sarah had a great vault, She’s been working on her landing and she stuck it on this event,” he added.

Next were the bars, and the Trojans swept the four state berths for the event. Jess Niedermayer was first with a 9.45, Ashley Nerud was second at 9.25, Christine Simon was third at 8.975 and Jaimie Niedermayer was fourth at 8.825. Breanna Ellanson had some troubles on the event and scored a 7.475.

“Jess had a solid score, and Ashley really had a clean routine to take second,” Amundsen noted.

Jess Niedermayer said she felt good after the routine, and felt it was good enough to go to state. “I wasn’t so sure it was a winning routine, but it felt good.”

The Trojans went into their final rotation, the beam, knowing that they had the meet pretty much wrapped up, but they were determined to pull off some good scores and set a new school record. Three Trojans placed in the top six, with Hoffman taking first at 9.575 and Jess Niedermayer second at 9.475. Marissa Ekness was fifth at 8.95, missing a state berth by five one-hundredths of a point. Jaimie Niedermayer had an 8.725 and Breanna Ellanson had an 8.45.

The Trojans’ only entry in the all-around was Jaimie Neidermayer, who placed second with a 36.325.

New Prague earned 12 of the 20 individual spots into Saturday’s state individual tournament. They included Jaimie Niedermayer (vault, bars, floor and all-around), Hoffman (vault, beam), Jess Niedermayer (bars and beam), Samson (vault), Nerud and Simon (bars) and Bridget Ellanson (floor).

The Trojans had their school record with a team score of 148.675. Watertown- Mayer was second at 141.875. The rest of the field included Waconia (138.875), New Ulm (133.875) Mankato West (132.825) Waseca (130.475), Blue Earth (123.075), St. Peter (122.4), Mankato East (121.9), Glencoe- Silver Lake (117.175) and Chaska (66.5).

“Setting the new school record was awesome,” said Jaimie Neidermayer. “It gives us confidence as we go on to the state tournament.”

Jess Niedermayer said the key was the big start the team had on the floor. “It got us going, got us really excited for the rest of the meet.” The Trojans will go into the state meet knowing that there are several other teams in contention for the title, most notably defending champion Melrose and Austin, which won the state true team title earlier this month.

Simon, who battled injuries throughout the year and came through with a strong performance on the bars, said the team will be ready.

“We’re going to go with a lot of confidence, but we know that there is still room for improvement.”