FORT WAYNE – High school gymnastics in northeast Indiana is always strong and this season is no exception.
Of the top 15 ranked teams in the state, four are from the area, led by top-ranked Bishop Dwenger, which won the state championship last year.
Here’s a look at the top individuals, teams and storylines for this season.
Alex Nickel, Angola: She took second place in the state last year in the all-around competition with a total score of 38, which was .75 behind Valparaiso’s Morgan Algozine. Both are back this season. Nickel won state titles on the uneven bars (9.75) and balance beam (9.6).
Katy Linvill, Bishop Dwenger: With a score of 37.575, she placed third in the state in the all-around last year. She excels in floor exercises, where she took second with a 9.6, which was .75 behind Algozine.
Megan Eggebrecht, Homestead: She placed 20th at the state finals with a 35.375 in the all-around. That included a 9.225 in the vault.
Cassie Neilands, Northrop: Her 33.375 was the eighth-best all-around score at the Concordia Sectional last year.
Laura Janssen, Snider: A 31.650 at the same sectional was good enough for 13th place.
Bishop Dwenger: The Saints lost to graduation Brittany Trahin and Carrie Brown, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively, in the all-around at the state finals, but Dwenger had a slew of depth and shouldn’t miss a step this season. Linvill is one of the best in the state, while Kaitlyn Coffee, Andrea Nix and Anne-Therese Poinsatte all have experience competing at the state finals. The Saints’ No. 1 ranking was expected and deserved.
Homestead: The Spartans’ depth is terrific with Eggebrecht, Morgan Stinson, who placed third in the all-around at the Huntington North Regional (36.175), plus Morgan Hardwick and Taylor Ross. The Spartans finished second at that meet, then took seventh at the state finals with a 104.475. The Spartans seem ranked too low at 12th.
Angola: The Hornets have Nickel, arguably the best gymnast in the state, but the Hornets’ No. 5 ranking in the state poll shows they are more than a one-girl show. Bailey Hinman took 12th place in the all-around last year at the Valparaiso Regional with a score of 34.3, though the Hornets finished third and didn’t advance. Amanda Fager and Lauren Henderson are very good, too.
Carroll: Megan Felger leads a Chargers squad that is ranked 14th in the state. She made it to the state finals last year on the balance beam.
Snider: The Panthers finished seventh at their sectional last year, but they return some great gymnasts, like Janssen, Lillian Ford and Taylor Nash, all of whom scored in the 30s in the all-around in sectionals.
Dwenger’s dominance: The Saints’ state championship last year was their fifth in gymnastics, and their fourth since 2003. The Saints are four back of Valparaiso for the all-time record and one behind Homestead for second place. However, the Saints have seven runner-up finishes, giving them more top-two finishes (12) than any team other than Valparaiso (14). Dwenger’s coach, Rosemarie Nix, has been there for all five championships, while Valparaiso’s Lorie Cook helmed all nine.
Best team you don’t know: That would be Heritage, which is led by Rachael Anderson, who scored as high as 33.45 in the all-around last year. Teammate Maddison Everhart scored a 33.85. The Patriots could surprise.
The revival of teams: While participation numbers for gymnastics statewide are the lowest of all sports, there are some teams resurging, such as Wayne, which is fielding complete varsity and junior varsity teams for the second straight year. The Generals are led by Arielle Sizemore, Veronica Hayes, Kaitlyn Erler and Kelsey Lilly.
An individual champion: Despite the strength of the local teams at the top, northeast Indiana has produced only two state all-around champions since 1997 – Homestead’s Shellen Goltz in 2000 and Dwenger’s Jeanna Van Hoey in 2005. Valparaiso has had six of the last 10. With Nickel, Linvill and company, that could change this year.
The strongest events: Locals have fared the best in two events – uneven bars and balance beam. On bars, six of the last nine state champions were from northeast Indiana, including Fremont’s Kayla Heator in 2009 and Nickel last year. On beam, four of the last seven champions are from here, including Huntington North’s Jessica Baker in 2011 and Nickel last year.