Preps notebook: LHS senior begins final year in gymnastics
Lawrence High senior Josie Hickerson hasn’t fully comprehended the idea that this is her final season in gymnastics.
Hickerson, who has been competing in gymnastics since she was 4 years old, doesn’t plan on pursuing the sport at the collegiate level. As a result, Hickerson is relishing the fact that everything is going to be a last for her this fall.
“It’s been my entire life,” Hickerson said. “I’ve grown up in the gym, so it being my last year is unreal.”
About this feature
Preps Notebook is a new feature from Journal-World high school sports reporter Shane Jackson that will run several times a week and highlight results and other information about local teams. For more on this new coverage plan, please read Shane’s introduction here.
Tuesday was Hickerson’s final season opener, as the Lawrence High gymnastics team hosted a quadrangular. The Lions won the meet with 100.6 points, while Free State placed second with 91.1 points. Olathe North and Olathe South finished third and fourth, respectively.
Hickerson notched first in the all-around rankings, while teammates Paris Spotted Tail claimed second and Eden Kingery took third.
It was the first glimpse of this year’s Lions, who have the mindset of placing in the top-three at the state gymnastics meet this season. LHS finished fifth last year, though Hickerson believes both city schools are capable of taking home some hardware.
“This year, our team is going to be really good,” Hickerson said. “Both LHS and Free State are stacked. Hopefully, we can take home a title between the two of us. We have really good teams.”
It would be a fitting way for Hickerson to close out her career, given how much she has accomplished in the sport.
As a junior, Hickerson finished sixth in the all-around rankings at the state gymnastics meet, including second on her floor routine.
Hickerson first competed for her high school team during her sophomore season following a back surgery in the eighth grade, which ended her club career. Prior to the injury, Hickerson planned on doing gymnastics at the next level.
Now, Hickerson hopes to compete in pole vault in college, which is something gymnastics has actually helped her improve at.
“Gymnastics helps a lot with pole vault, just with body awareness,” Hickerson said. “My strength has improved a lot, and it makes being able to go upside down pretty easy.”
New Firebirds duo thriving
Free State seniors Gabby Gorman and Kate Piper have instantly connected as a doubles team.
That was evident at the Lawrence High quadrangular Tuesday afternoon at LHS. The new dynamic duo won two matches for Free State in a meet with Shawnee Mission South, Olathe South and LHS.
“We are more comfortable,” Piper said. “We are talking more and it is easier to read balls and stuff.”
But Tuesday was just the second time the two have played together in a high school meet. They have a 4-2 record through the first two matches as a doubles team.
Gorman has spent the last two seasons teaming up with junior Anna Peard. In 2017, the duo posted a 27-12 record as a doubles team and placed 11th at the state meet. The two helped the Firebirds claim fifth in the team standings at the 6A state tournament, which was their highest finish since 2002.
“Last year, I played as No. 2 doubles so the competition has gone up,” Gorman said. “We have good chemistry on the court. It helps that our skills complement each other pretty well.”
Piper, however, had to make the adjustment of just competing as a doubles player. Piper previously played on the singles team, as she qualified for the state tournament in each of the last two years.
“I was kind of nervous because I played singles freshman through junior year,” Piper said. “At the net is a lot of different. You can just put the ball away more during doubles at the net.”
Yet the two players have managed to fit perfectly together, mostly due to their commitment in the offseason.
They played a lot of doubles tournaments together in the summer, and understand how they can work together on the court.
“Kate has a stronger forehand and I have a stronger backhand,” Gorman said. “It works well both sides. We are both really comfortable at the net.”
LHS senior finding form with new partner
Six years ago, senior Caitlynn Kliem first picked up the sport of tennis and chose to focus solely on that.
Kliem has played at the varsity level for Lawrence High since she was a sophomore. She’s worked her way up the ladder, and now holds down the No. 1 doubles spot with Laura Teska for the Lions.
Despite what the results would indicate, the two players are meshing through the early part of the season. In Tuesday’s home meet, Kliem and Teska lost all three matches, but the final battle with Free State’s top doubles team was its best of the afternoon.
“Even though we lost to Free State, I think we played a lot better than we did in the first match,” Kliem said. “Our teamwork has really improved. I could definitely see that we were playing a lot better than we did in our first match.”
In their first season as a doubles team, Kleim and Teska have a 1-5 record through two matches.
But Kliem’s seamless transition to a new partner should come as no surprise given her track record.
In her junior season, Kliem played with three different doubles partners. Kliem is more suited to play near the net, and she is also better with her backhand compared to her forehand.
“It was tough,” Kliem said. “It was tough going from game to game playing with different people. I think I played well with everyone, but it is just who was the best fit.”
Kliem has always been willing to do what is best for the Lions.
Despite being more suited for doubles, Kliem filled in admirably as a singles player in 2017. An injury forced her to do so, but it exemplified her selfless attitude.
As a team, the Lions have flashed potential with a number of younger players improving on a bigger stage. Karenna Peterson and Lana Chieu, the No. 2 doubles team, won the only match for the Lions on Tuesday.
“I thought we played our best tennis today, but the competition was much greater than we have seen,” head coach Chris Marshall said. “We are doing a lot more things right. We have a lot of young girls that need the experience.”