Detroit Lakes' Cora Okeson, shown on the balance beam at the Class 1A, Section 8 meet, was runner-up at state on the beam and all-around.
The scores were impressive, enough to make most teams envious, but this was two-time defending Class 1A champion Detroit Lakes. You don’t develop arguably the state’s top gymnastics program by being satisfied.
It’s not as if the Lakers, who seek to win another team championship Friday at the gymnastics state meet at the U of M Sports Pavilion, were desperate. Their team scores were consistently at 146 points or higher, a score few teams in the state achieve on their best days. There was so much more to be had, so many points left out on the floor.
“At the beginning of the season, we were scoring low and we couldn’t figure it out,” junior Emma Disse said. “We were practicing long and hard, but it wasn’t working out.”
A change was needed. A meeting was called.
“We figured out that we needed to become more of a team instead of just individuals,” sophomore Cora Okeson said.
How does a group of girls in a largely individual sport become more of a team? Doesn’t a good score, no matter how it’s achieved, benefit the team?
“Sometimes there’s hesitation to do some of the bigger skills the team needs. That can be scary,” coach Steve Zamzo said. “They need to think that ‘My team needs me to do this to help us be successful.’ ”
After the December meeting, the Lakers’ season took off. Their scores jumped dramatically, reaching the rare 151-point mark five times. Only one other team, Lakeville North in Class 2A, had scored as high as 150 all season.
The Lakers set a team-record 151.95 in winning the Section 8 meet, yet still they felt their best was yet to come.
“We’ve flirted with 152, 153 this year,” Zamzo said. “Our goal for the section meet was 152. We came so close, but we lost some points on bars, things like that. If everybody had clicked, we would have been high 152s, easily.”
“When we watched it on video, we were kind of bummed out actually,” Disse said. “It was such a great score, but we’re shooting for 152. We know we can reach that.”
The Lakers have the requisite top-level performers. Disse is the defending Class 1A floor exercise champion. Okeson finished second on the balance beam and in the all-around last year. Senior Molly Lyngaas won the all-around in 2015 and is back competing on the uneven bars after missing the 2016 season with ankle and foot injuries.
But the key to the Lakers’ success is depth. Injuries are a part of gymnastics, but Detroit Lakes has quality gymnasts to step in a perform at a high level when an injury occurs.
“We have 12 to 14 kids that could compete for any varsity team in the state,” Zamzo said.
The Class 1A state meet record team score is 150.4, set by Perham in 2005. Detroit Lakes came close last year, falling just short with a score of 150.225.
Considering how high the Lakers have scored this season, the record seems destined to fall Friday. In fact, Roseville’s overall meet-record score of 153.525, set in 2008, seems reachable.
Zamzo admits that’s a goal, but he knows everything would have to align perfectly.
“On a really good day, this group of kids could do that,” he said. “But it’s tough, especially with four judges [on every event].”
• Lakeville North, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A, is seeking its first team championship since 2002. Then known as Lakeville (the district divided into two high schools, North and South, in 2005), the Panthers won nine Class 2A team championships from 1993 through 2002.
• For the first time since 2005, Roseville will not participate in the Class 2A team tournament. The Raiders made 11 consecutive state meet appearances, winning eight championships, from 2006 through 2016. Fourth-ranked Stillwater ended the No. 5 Raiders’ streak with a victory in the Section 4 meet Saturday.
• The only individual champion returning in Class 2A is Henry Sibley junior Sophie Redding in vault. In Class 1A, Austin senior Maddie Mullenbach will defend her balance beam and all-around titles. Disse is seeking another floor exercise championship, and Melrose sophomore Greta Klaphake will defend her vault title.