The following city gymnasts will compete at the Class 6A state meet in Newton:
Drue Davis, Free State, sr.
• Sixth in the all-around at state in 2008. Will compete in the uneven bars, balance beam, floor and vault.
Kelcy Bowers, Free State, jr.
• Third in the balance beam at state in 2008. Will compete in uneven bars, balance beam, floor and vault.
Aly Frydman, Free State, jr.
• Participated at state in 2008. Team’s third threat will compete in balance beam, floor and vault.
Camille DuBos, Free State, sr.
• Exchange student from France. Will compete in uneven bars and vault.
Lexi Gonzales, Free State, jr.
• Participated at state in 2008 as a sophomore. Will compete in uneven bars, balance beam and vault.
Brooke Leslie, Free State, fr.
• Youngest member of the ‘09 squad. Will compete in uneven bars, balance beam and floor.
Jackie Soelter, FSHS, soph.
• Participated at state in 2008 as a freshman. Will compete in floor and is an alternate in the balance beam.
Maria Carvajal, Lawrence, sr.
• Lone Lion to qualify for state will compete in uneven bars.
Abbie McLean, Free State, soph.
• Will be the Firebirds’ alternate in vault and floor.
When the 2009 high school gymnastics season first kicked off, the Free State High girls expected that they would have a chance to challenge for a state championship in November.
Those watching their early-season meets, however, may have wondered why. Hindered by a couple of minor injuries and kept in check by a desire to show gradual improvement rather than going for broke right away, the Firebirds jogged out of the gate and looked like anything but a serious state contender.
If anything, it was their chief rival, fellow-Sunflower League school Shawnee Mission Northwest, that looked like the cream of the crop early on.
“We started out really slow and Northwest was beating us at every meet,” said FSHS senior Drue Davis, who finished sixth in the all-around competition at last year’s state meet. “In the backs of our minds, though, we weren’t worried about it because we knew we had more to come and we were just being patient.”
As the season went on, the Firebirds became more healthy. Better health led to better routines. Better routines led to better scores. And all of that combined led to better finishes in the team standings.
The Firebirds head into Saturday’s Class 6A state meet in Newton on the heels of first-place finishes at both the Sunflower League meet and their Class 6A regional. At each, the Firebirds took another step forward and flashed a little more of that state-title-contender sparkle that they knew was there at the beginning of the season.
“They have progressed really well this year and really jelled well, even better than we anticipated,” FSHS coach Kathy Johnson said. “We knew they could be successful by the end of the year but to win both league and regionals leading up to state was just amazing. They are so psyched for state.”
And why not? The Firebirds enter Saturday’s noon competition at the top of their game. Davis and junior Kelcy Bowers both figure to factor into the competition for the individual all-around title and, with the supremely talented supporting cast behind them, they both expect this to be a special weekend for the program.
“We want to win for a lot of reasons,” Davis said. “We want to win for Kathy, because she’s always supported us and done so much for us, and we want to do it for our school because Free State has never won a fall sports state championship and it would be really cool to be the first. We still have a few tenths we can still pick up in different events to make our team score even bigger.”
Added Bowers, who just missed earning an all-around medal at last year’s meet: “We haven’t even had that perfect meet yet, where we all stuck beam or we all nailed bars. I’m really confident that we’re going to peak at state.”
To no one’s surprise, SM Northwest figures to be the toughest team standing between the Firebirds and their dreams of a state title. Also figuring into the mix will be the host school, Newton High.
Despite the talent and depth of both of those squads, Johnson said Saturday’s meet likely will come down to one thing.
“It’s sticking your routines, it’s performing them with no falls on beam, no falls on any event and doing the best you can do,” Johnson said. “Don’t fall apart, do your best, and if you do fall apart, don’t let that ruin that event or anything else. We’ve gone back and forth with (SM Northwest) all season, and in some meets it’s been very, very, very close. If we both are hitting, it’s going to be a very competitive Saturday and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what you want state to be.”
Davis said the rivalry with the Cougars has made the entire season a lot of fun. She expects that it will make state one of the most memorable competitions of her life.
“No one wants to flat-out say it, but there’s definitely tension there between the two teams,” she said. “We try to be as friendly as we can because we’re not mean girls. We’re definitely there to win on Saturday but we want a good fight, too.”
Last year at state, the Firebirds set a school record for points (105.125) but finished in third place, just 1.225 points behind 2008 champion Olathe East. Sandwiched between the two was SM Northwest, which finished with 105.25.
The memories of that experience, along with this year’s expectations, have the entire team pumped up and ready to go.
“This year it’s a lot more exciting because we’re going into it a lot stronger than we were last year,” junior Aly Frydman said. “Last year, we were a strong team but there were teams that had been scoring higher than us. This year, we knew that if we wanted to win state we all had to be a part of it.
“I feel like other schools didn’t really feel like we were the team to beat until recently. But lately, with how we did at league and regionals, we’ve put pressure on other schools and hopefully we can do that at state, too.”