WISCONSIN RAPIDS — The tears of goodbyes were dimmed by the tears of hello.
Watertown seniors Meghan Hurtgen and Lauryn Olson competed for the last time on the biggest stage high school gymnastics has to offer and tears flowed freely as reality kicked in. Then her first-time teammate year Sammy Knight closed the show with a heartbreaking performance from someone who had just debuted.
Knight landed an elusive batting landing for her explosive pike tsukahara on her second and final attempt at the WIAA State Gymnastics Championships, earning her a personal best 9.233 in Division 1 individual competition at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School Saturday.
After celebrating the touchdown with head coach Jenna Wendt and assistant Tricia Helfer, Knight celebrated the personal best announcement with her teammates, who were thrilled.
“Oh, my God, yes,” Olson said. “I like this girl.”
As a testament to the high level of competition at this event, a total of 27 gymnasts scored 9.0 or higher. Knight’s score tied her for 14th place.
It’s not a bad start for a freshman who’s attempted this difficult jump all season long, but only blocked it twice – once at the section and once at the state. .
“I’m still a bit in shock,” Knight said. “It’s definitely one of the greatest moments of all time.”
From his first attempt of the season at the Oconomowoc Invitational in December, it was clear Knight had the speed, power and technique to execute the jump. Landing has always been the sticking point, literally.
“She likes pressure, we found out,” Wendt said. “We know his safe is there. We’ve said it all year. Its size is there. The judges love her size. She has a very nice pike. It just has to land, open and land. Landing on his second state jump is incredible.
His attempts leading to the final sprint on the track were not encouraging. She took a little longer to collect herself for the final attempt, with the coaches telling her to breathe shortly before.
“The warm-ups weren’t good,” Knight said. “I didn’t land one and then I didn’t land my first and I knew I had to put it all together and land my second.”
Knight enjoyed her first trip to the state, although she and Olson had to wait the first 11 innings before competing in the penultimate round of the day.
“This one is just a lot bigger,” Knight said. “Waiting all day to compete made it all the more real. It’s just like everyone has said, and more. It’s great to be here as a freshman and I hope to come back next year. next year. This summer, I’m really going to work on the floor and do a tsuk layout and a double back to the floor. Those are my two main goals.
Knight kept her teammates loose in her last chance to compete alongside them.
“They’ve both been very helpful to me throughout my season,” Knight said. “They were my role models and I’m not excited for next year because I won’t have them. I’m super sad to see them go but I know they’ll be back to cheer us on next year.
Hurtgen competed in the all-around and placed 20th out of 25 gymnasts with an overall score of 34.234.
She got her best score on the floor exercise, where she scored 8.917. Since she also individually qualified on the floor exercise and the uneven bars, her scores were part of the individual totals for those events. His floor score was good for 20th place, while his 8.517 on uneven bars was good for 18th place.
Hurtgen also scored 8.517 on vault and 8.283 on beam.
As a sophomore, she also qualified for state as the program’s first-ever sectional champion and placed 25th with a 33.300. She improved her scores from her previous trip to declare in all events except the balance beam.
“It was exciting, especially (to come here) with two other teammates,” Hurtgen said. “It made it really fun. It was a great atmosphere, because we were with people we knew and usually competed with, so it was just a really fun experience.
“The scores were a bit lower, but honestly I wasn’t even worried about the scores. I just wanted to go out and have fun and do my best.
Hurtgen started on the bars in round 2 and got through with only a slight glitch, and that’s how every event has gone. One of the highlights of the day came in round 5 on the balance beam, where she managed to put together one of her few no-fall routines of the season.
She succeeded by making one of the best saves you can make. Midway through the routine, her momentum began to drive her forward to a dangerous degree. To keep her balance, she grabbed her calves and squeezed them tightly until she stabilized.
“It was a little, I can’t fall here,” Hurtgen said of the mental game. “I thought my beam was good. I didn’t fall, which I haven’t done much this season. I kept that, so it was fun. This year has been difficult with me on beam. It was great to have one last routine without a fall.
Wendt added: “It was a big save for her. She just wanted to stay on the beam and that’s all we wanted for her too.
Next is floor exercise, where Hurtgen improved a full point from her sophomore score of 8.817.
“My floor wasn’t my best of the year, but it was still pretty clean,” Hurtgen said.
Judging is notoriously more difficult at this level, as Wendt has seen over the years. This made Hurtgen’s top floor a satisfying score.
“She gave her best today,” Wendt said. “I would say throwing an 8.9 on state ground is pretty impressive. There’s a lot of tough competition here.
Hurtgen finished on vault with her teammates. The vaults were solid. She wobbled a little on the landings but held herself upright.
With no competitive plans in college, it marked the end of a lifelong effort for Hurtgen. Her tears afterwards said more about her love for the sport than any words ever could.
“It was a ride,” Hurtgen said. “It’s been a journey, 16 years for me. Very, very hard and sad (to say goodbye).
Wendt was pleased with how Hurtgen ended her senior season, which included the school record on the uneven bars.
“Extremely special to see her break this school bar record,” Wendt said. “She wanted this for a long time and she fought with Tricia and I, and I mean fought hard, to learn nothing new this year.
“We managed to make him a whole new bar routine. She learned something new on floor and she also learned something new on balance beam. The one thing she didn’t learn anything new about was jumping. We manage to make him learn new things.
Hurtgen played giants on the uneven bars throughout all four college seasons.
“She’s the first (I’m aware of doing it in our program),” Wendt said. “She had a pretty hard fall three or four weeks ago. She fell off the high bar and hit the ground hard. It was a pretty hard fall. She got up and came back stronger than ever.
“We’re extremely proud of her. She’s battled a lot of emotions, positive and negative, over the last two years. Knee injury after knee injury. Gymnastics in general, there’s the wear and tear on you. You love sports, and then you hate sports. There’s positives and negatives all along. She pushes through and pushes through. She gives 110% every day.
Olson closed his career with one of his typical high scores of 8 on vault. His 8.733 was good for 24th place out of 26 individual qualifications.
“It was great to come out that way,” Olson said. “It was a bit surreal. I’ve never experienced this before, in my opinion, and for this to be my last year, it’s my dream. I’m sick at the moment, so it was a difficult day to sitting down, but once I step on the track or on the floor, it all goes away and I just focus on what’s happening in front of me.
Olson plans to play softball in college, so that was it for his secondary sport. It’s a close second, to be sure.
“I’ve been doing this for 11 years,” Olson said. “It means almost as much to me as softball. It’s such a mental sport. Everything I learned from gymnastics will totally transfer to softball. It makes me a mentally strong person. I can’t thank this sport enough.
The only thing that could have made the day better for Wendt would have been seeing Olson participate in the floor exercise. She missed qualifying by 0.25 points.
“Bittersweet,” Wendt said. “I wanted this floor so badly for her. She definitely deserved it. I’ve also coached her from day one of gymnastics, through her youth program, so that’s very emotional for me. Very proud of her.”
Helfer, who like Wendt is a former Gosling gymnast, was proud of the three state qualifiers.
“I liked the consistency,” Helfer said. “Meghan has been consistent in every event, Lauryn is consistent with her 8.7 on vault so we’re really happy with that. Everyone landed on the jump. We took a pitch for all of our high school kids today. For the first time ever, having three in the state was definitely an accomplishment for me.
Wendt praised Olson and Hurtgen’s four years of contribution, while keeping an enthusiastic eye on the future.
“We have a very good team this year,” Wendt said. “We had an incredible team this year. Many juniors who will be seniors next year. Sammy has a lot of potential contributing to our team. I’m so excited to see what they can all do next year, but it’s sad to lose our seniors.