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Morgan Long, Mahtomedi Photo: Cathi Kurkowski

 

Led by longtime coach Debbie Driscoll, Mahtomedi emerged as a gymnastics dynasty in the 1980s and ’90s. Between 1982 and 1996, the Zephyrs captured 10 state championships, including a stretch of six consecutive titles from 1988 to 1993.

They have hoisted 30 conference championships in Driscoll’s 36 years of coaching. She hopes No. 31 will come this winter.

The secret to Driscoll’s success? “I don’t know,” Driscoll said. “That is a very good question.”

That’s humility, of course. Driscoll and her staff have built and sustained a prosperous program, even without a local gymnastics club helping feed the varsity program. They have a junior high program, which Driscoll also runs. The coaches work closely with those girls and encourage them to suit up for the Zephyrs once they reach the varsity level.

Mahtomedi is off to a great start this year, with hopes of defending its Classic Suburban Conference championship and Class 2A, Section 4 crown.

The strength of the Zephyrs was evident at the Minnesota Girls’ Gymnastics Coaches Association Invite at Roseville a few weeks ago. It is considered one of the top high school meets in the Midwest.

The invite included 16 total teams. Mahtomedi, with the smallest school enrollment of any participating team by far — and they placed third, just behind No. 2-ranked Roseville and Wayzata but ahead of Lakeville North and Minnetonka.

It was the Zephyrs’ season-high score of 138.2.

“We were really excited about that,” Driscoll said. “They were feeling very good after that, especially since it’s still early in the season.”

That was Beth Kurkowski’s first meet participating in the all-around for Mahtomedi. About one week before the season started, Kurkowski decided to come and try out for the Zephyrs instead of sticking with her local club.

“She’s really boosted up our team scores,” Driscoll said.

Kurkowski earned a Level 10 designation with her club team. Driscoll estimated there are about 40 girls in Minnesota with the Level 10 designation, which is the highest level a gymnast can reach before being able to qualify for the national team.

Kurkowski came to the Zephyrs program injured, which was one of the main reasons she left her club team, Driscoll said.

“I know it was a really hard decision for her, because she did really like her club,” Driscoll said. “But she was just tired of dealing with the injuries.”

The coaches have been slowly working to get her skills back, but they don’t want to push her too quickly to the point of re-injury.

“She backs up a really good team,” Driscoll said.

That team includes Morgan Long, a senior captain who placed 16th in the balance beam at last season’s state meet and should be even stronger this year.

“She worked out real hard for us in the summer and has been a real rock for us this year,” Driscoll said.

Mahtomedi was ranked No. 13 in the Jan. 12 poll conducted by the Minnesota Girls’ Gymnastics Association. The Zephyrs placed sixth as a team in last year’s Class 2A state meet.

“We seem to enjoy going to meets with a lot of good competition,” Driscoll said. “We seem to do better and give us a better idea of where we’re really at.”

That should bode well for the Zephyrs down the stretch.

The Class 2A, Section 4 meet will be held on Feb. 15 at White Bear Lake. The state meet will take place on Feb. 21-22 at the University of Minnesota.

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