WORTH THE WAIT: Royals claim Class A state title with strong finish

CHAMPLIN – It was the longest seven hours of their lives for the Watertown-Mayer/Mound Westonka gymnastics team. It was worth every minute.

After competing in the first session of the Class A State Gymnastics Meet, the No. 1-ranked Royals were forced to sit and wait to see if their score was enough to capture the first state title in program history. That wait proved to be worth it as the W-M/MW saw all their hard work pay off as they won the Class A state title with a team score of 146.350.

“It was definitely worth the wait,” senior Rosie Unglaub said. “All of the building up and once we got the news, it was great.  I couldn’t believe it. It was just shocking. I’m just so proud of everyone because we worked so hard for this.”

As the final team standings were announced virtually more than seven hours after the W-M/MW finished competing, there was a heartstopping moment for many of the Royals. Although everyone else in the room knew what they accomplished, the members of the team refused to check the scores as they came in. When the second-place finisher was announced with a score of 146, all eyes began to look at each other as they held on for the next number which proved to be the difference.

“It was a moment of wow,” Anna Mielke said. “I thought second would be cool, but also first would be really cool. We knew Pine Island definitely could get that 146.  We were watching and we knew it was going to come down to tenths by the way we saw them competing. When I heard that zero, it was like the world kind of stopped for a second. I kind of just froze. I wasn’t sure. I just stared at my sister and smiled. We all just jumped up and it was a really amazing feeling. It’s a feeling that I’ve dreamt about since I first started gymnastics.”

The score of 146.025 was announced for Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa, meaning the Royals were the state champions.

“A lot of us were getting really nervous,” Reagan Kelley said. “It took so long but it was so worth it in the end.  We were just trying to hold it together. Then once we heard our name, we could celebrate. It was so fun.”

The Royals came into the state meet as the No. 1-ranked team in Class A. Although the final score was much closer than they wanted it to be, all of their hard work paid off on the state’s biggest stage delivering the program their first state title.

“They’re such a hardworking group,” W-M/MW coach Steve Hangartner said. “You never see them sitting down. I was trying to cut them back a bit on practice leading up to this. We stayed longer. I told them we’re going to be done at 5:30. We were there until 6:30 every night. They even asked after the meet today if they could go back and work out.”

While the hard work paid off in the end, it didn’t come easy for the Royals. After a disappointing performance on beam for their standards, W-M/MW was forced to turn things up a notch in their final two rotations which just happened to be their best two events.

“After beam, we were a little shaken up,” Kelley said. “We were doing so good in warmups and then had two falls. Stuff happens. We can’t fix it now, but we just put our heads together and did our best on the last two events.”

Needing to get something going in a hurry, freshman Maggie McCabe stepped up in a big way on beam. After injuring her toe during practice earlier this week, McCabe fought through the pain and delivered a big-time performance on beam to keep W-M/MW’s state title hopes alive.

“Maggie had a terrible warm-up,” Hangartner said. “I was just thinking that she was all over the place. She thought she jammed her toe and she didn’t even work out last night. We weren’t even sure if she was going to go. She comes in today and says she’s fine. For her to come up there and step up was big.”

Along with McCabe, Unglaub, the lone senior gave the Royals a spark. A score of 9.55 on floor in the next rotation gave W-M/WM the boost they needed, and a second-place finish for Unglaub as an individual, as well.

“Right before vault, we had a great pep talk with our coaches,” Unglaub said. “Now was our time to shine. Floor and vault are some of our stronger events and it’s the energy on those that made the difference.”

W-M/MW’s momentum carried over into their final rotation. A score of 9.65 from Mielke was the finishing touch the Royals needed to overcome their slow start.

After getting off to a start not up to their standards, the Royals could have thrown in the towel. That’s not how they do things. A team that’s built on relationships and pushing each other, W-M/MW once again rallied together in their final two rotations.

“It’s super important to have such a close bond as a team,” Unglaub said. “We have so many people tell us that it looks like we have so much fun. It’s a huge compliment. We have built such a close bond.”

Kelley, a sophomore who joined the team this season, was a welcomed addition for the Royals who accepted her with open arms as she fit right into their family.

“I’m new this year and came from a team that was also really close,” Kelley said. “I was kind of scared that I wouldn’t be as close with these girls. I’m so glad that I walked into an environment where we’re all best friends inside and outside of the gym. It’s nice to always have each other’s back. The friendships are so strong between all of us.”

A team filled with friendly competition and the drive to push each other, Kelley only added that to the Royals this season.

“She had enough of club,” Hangartner said. “She just needed a change. For her to make that adjustment was big. I don’t think she wanted to give up on gymnastics. This gave her another avenue. I think she really enjoyed it. She saw what a team is. When you’re in Team USA gymnastics, it’s all about the individual. When you come here, you want to do well for the team and you get that connection. She just fit right in.”

While Kelley was a key addition for the Royals, it was Unglaub that held this team together. Being the lone senior isn’t easy, but she did it with a smile every day.

“Rosie just has so much fun,” Hangartner said. “I have my iPad filled up with videos. It wasn’t working so I decided to delete some of them. I came upon a video that I couldn’t delete because Rosie was dancing around on the floor after sticking a landing. That’s too good to delete. I take these videos and send them to them like three years later so they can remember these moments.”

“Rosie is the best,” Kelley added. “She’s like the mom of the group. She keeps everyone in check. She makes sure everyone is in a good mood. She is the person that is the highlight. She’s amazing.”

Unglaub will end her gymnastics career on top alongside her best friends. It was a year that brought many challenges but also brought the biggest rewards as her and her teammates’ hard work paid off.

“It’s the best thing I could ask for,” Unglaub said. “It’s just such a great way to end the year and my whole gymnastics career. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.”

Follow Kip Kovar on Twitter: @Kovar_HJSports 

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