Free State gymnastics secures state crown; LHS junior claims 2 individual titles

photo by: Courtesy photo

Free State's gymnastics squad poses with the state championship plaque Saturday afternoon at Newton High School on Nov. 7, 2020. The Firebirds won a state title for the first time since 2014.

In a year that hasn’t provided many reasons for celebration, Lawrence High and Free State gymnastics coach Katrina Farrow probably won’t stop smiling anytime soon.

Free State’s gymnastics squad finished atop the team standings at the state meet Saturday afternoon at Newton High School — the fifth state title in program history and the first since 2014. And gymnasts from Lawrence High and Free State won all five of the individual state titles that were up for grabs.

“It honestly feels completely surreal,” Farrow said. “It’s a dream for your team. Just for something that you have dreamed about and worked so hard for to come to fruition. (I am) just beaming with pride. It’s incredible.”

Free State scored 107.313 points as a team en route to its victory, narrowly beating runner-up Olathe North’s mark of 106.175. The Firebirds won all but one meet during the 2020 campaign; they were the runners-up at the Sunflower League meet.

Leading the way for Free State was senior Talia Gay, who capped off a stellar career by winning her second all-around state title. She was also a state champion in bars for the fourth year in a row and won another state crown in beam. Last year, Gay could only compete in two events at the state meet because of a back injury.

“I’m so glad to end my gymnastics career on such a high note and a big win with my favorite teammates,” Gay said.

Lawrence High junior Paris Spotted-Tail helped complete the sweep of the state crowns. Spotted-Tail won floor after being a runner-up in the event in each of her last two trips to state. She also took first in vault.

“I’m happy all of us were able to become close as a team. It made gymnastics more enjoyable,” Spotted-Tail said.

Kenzie Vaughn, who joined the program this year, also placed fourth in the all-around rankings for FSHS in the final meet of the season. She claimed second in vault and finished fourth in beam.

“I’m so happy I joined the team this year,” Vaughn said. “Coming from club was such a big change, and these girls were such a big help.”

It took a team effort from both squads to come back with so much hardware on Saturday. Avery Qualseth, Ashley Mai, Ellie Vickers, Chaney Finkeldei and Tori Crockett all contributed to the Firebirds’ first-place finish. And Lawrence gymnasts Caroline Dunlap, Sophia Zogry, Ivori Jones and Beth Brandt also helped out with it indirectly, because the two teams practice together.

In fact, the week of practice leading up to state played a big part in why the Firebirds were able to end the season on such a high note. FSHS lost to Olathe North at the league meet one week earlier, and responded with its best week of practice all year.

Both teams focused on the minor details of all their routines and made sure their schedule was similar to the way the state meet was going to be. Most importantly, they had everybody watch when anyone was practicing an event to simulate the pressure of postseason competition.

“It was a humbling experience (to lose league),” Farrow said. “Our last weakness was how to keep your heads in the game. And we did; we worked on that all week.”

The teams stayed in a hotel Friday night, with each gymnast having her own room to ensure they were taking necessary COVID-19 precautions. At about 9 p.m. Friday night, they all watched a video of their parents wishing them good luck just before they went to bed.

Assistant coach Hayley Barnett put together the video, which helped to illustrate what exactly was at stake on Saturday.

“She had a lot of encouragement from the parents (to help us) realize that all of our families and the city of Lawrence is behind us,” Farrow said. “I think it (made us realize) that we have to bring it back to our town.”

By the time both teams took the mat on Saturday, it was business as usual.

The Firebirds realized that they had it in the bag when they completed the beam event, which was their second competition of the day. Crockett, Finkeldei, Qualseth, Vaughn and Gay each posted an average of 8.2750 or higher in beam.

None of the FSHS gymnasts fell in the process, which was the first time all season that had been the case.

“You just can’t help (but be excited) at that point,” Farrow said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we are doing it.'”

State gymnastics meet

Saturday at Newton HS

Team scores: 1. Free State 107.313; 2. Olathe North 106.175; 3. Olathe West 104.450; 4. SM Northwest 98.075; 5. SM East 96.550; 6. Olathe East 96.425; 7. Newton 95.513; 8. Lawrence 93.825.

FSHS team totals: Vault 27.500; Bars 25.338; Beam 27.573; Floor 26.900.

LHS team totals: Vault 26.800; Bars 18.800; Beam 22.175; Floor 26.050.

FSHS/LHS results

All-around: 1. Talia Gay, FS, 37.7375; 4. Kenzie Vaughn, FS, 35.4750; 14. Paris Spotted-Tail, LHS, 32.7250; 23. Beth Brandt, LHS, 30.3500; 26. Ivori Jones, LHS, 29.7750; 28. Caroline Dunlap, LHS, 26.4000.

Vault: 1. Paris Spotted-Tail, LHS, 9.500; 2. Kenzie Vaughn, FS, 9.400; T-3. Talia Gay, FS, 9.200; 8. Ashley Mai, FS, 8.900; T-13. Ivori Jones, 8.700; T-21. Beth Brandt, LHS, 8.600; T-21. Avery Qualseth, FS, 8.600; T-21. Ellie Vickers, FS, 8.600.

Bars: 1. Talia Gay, FS, 9.4125; 8. Kenzie Vaughn, FS, 8.0750; 11. Ellie Vickers, FS, 7.8500; 17. Tori Crockett, FS, 7.2000; 21. Chaney Finkeldei, FS, 6.9750; 25. Paris Spotted-Tail, LHS, 6.5250; 29. Beth Brandt, LHS, 6.1750; 30. Ivori Jones, LHS, 6.1000.

Beam: 1. Talia Gay, FS, 9.650; 4. Kenzie Vaughn, FS, 9.125; 7. Chaney Finkeldei, FS, 8.800; 15. Avery Qualseth, FS, 8.350; 17. Tori Crockett, FS, 8.275; 24. Sophia Zogry, LHS, 7.900; 33. Paris Spotted-Tail, LHS, 7.150; 34. Ivori Jones, LHS, 7.125; 37. Beth Brandt, LHS, 6.925.

Floor: 1. Paris Spotted-Tail, LHS, 9.550; 2. Talia Gay, FS, 9.475; 9. Kenzie Vaughn, FS, 8.875; T-11. Beth Brandt, LHS, 8.650; T-17. Chaney Finkeldei, FS, 8.550; 19. Ellie Vickers, FS, 8.500; 23. Tori Crockett, FS, 8.400.


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