SECTION 5A GYMNASTICS: Royals claim ninth-straight section title

WATERTOWN – All season long Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics coach Steve Hangartner had to wait and see just how good his team truly was. The wait was worth it as the Royals put on a show at the Section 5A meet and claimed their ninth-straight section championship by posting their best team score of the season when it mattered most Thursday night.

“It’s the first time we’ve had our whole lineup all year,” Hangartner said. “There are still things we’re still trying to iron out and work on, but they did pretty well. I’m really pleased with them.”

“We’ve been dealing with some many injuries this year,” Reagan Kelley said. “This was our first meet having everyone. It feels nice because we’re getting our scores back up to where we kind of think they should be. I’m really proud of us.”

The Royals started their night out on beam which is not an easy task. After Hangartner saw his team go a perfect 5-for-5, he knew his team would be ready to go the rest of the meet.

“Starting out on beam is not easy,” he said. “You can’t be real aggressive at all. You have to be really focused. It’s not like vault or floor where you can run and go all out. With beam, you have to be in control and that’s tough. For them to start out with five sticks was pretty impressive.”

After getting off to a good start, Kelley, the defending state champion in all-around for Class A stole the show with two big-time performances on vault and bars. On vault posted a score of 9.75 while finishing off her meet with an impressive 9.75 on bars to close things out.

“I was so excited to compete on bars last,” Kelley said. “That’s my favorite event. Just nailing that routine felt awesome.”

“She’s competed in all-around every meet this season,” Hangartner added. “She keeps herself healthy. She’s really good at keeping herself healthy. Reagan’s pretty smart and she knows how to regular herself and knows if she needs to push herself or not. Some gymnasts will run through a wall for you but you have to be smart. I can trust her.”

Kelley’s big night earned her the Section 5A title for all-around posting a score of 38.625. Teammate Maggie McCabe also finished second in all-around for the Royals with a score of 36.225.

Other state qualifiers for W-M/MW include Evelyn Mielke on vault, Maddie Sanders on beam, and Payton Hecksel on beam. Of the three state qualifiers, Mielke and Sanders will be making their first state meet appearance for the Royals as well as the younger girls on the roster participating in the team competition.

“I’m so excited for everyone to come to state,” Kelley said. “Some of our girls that qualified haven’t before and I’m just excited about that. We all did really awesome today and I couldn’t be more proud of my team. (We) kind of started a little bit rocky this season. We kind of thought the dynamic of our team was going to change a lot this year but honestly, we’re doing really well. We’re trying to stay healthy and it’s been a really good season so far.”

The Royals will head into the Class A state meet looking to win their third state title in a row. They’ll have their hands full with teams such as Big Lake and Detroit Lakes but they know what they’re capable of now after getting their whole lineup

“I think some people are not even really looking at us,” Hangartner said. “There are teams that have been scoring way more than us all season. Now we’re right behind them. We can improve on a few things in a week.”

Kelley will also be back to defend her state title for all-around, an opportunity that brings excitement and nerves for the senior in her final state meet appearance.

“I’m really excited but also nervous,” Kelley said. “I won last year and I want to set that expectation for the same if not even bigger. I am a little nervous but I’m prepared and think it’s going to go very well.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter – @Kovar_HJSports

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