Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Austin's Fadness wins state title, leads Packers gymnasts at individuals

Worried and nervous entering competition at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion on Saturday, Austin gymnast Sela Fadness was able to breathe calmly and bask in post-performance glory afterward.

Fadness hauled in four medals at the Class A state individuals competition, including becoming the first Packers individual champion at state since 2002.

“I’m so excited, I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet,” Fadness said after collecting co-champion honors in floor exercise, scoring a 9.65. “I wanted to pull it off with the win (outright), but tying with Hailey Brinkman is such an honor. She is such a good gymnast.”

A Melrose Area senior, Brinkman dominated the entire competition today. But Fadness could take pride in her and teammate Abby Bickler’s performances Saturday, as well as the accomplishments she envisions the pair claiming next season.

“With it being [Brinkman’s] senior year, hopefully next year I can come back and me and Abby can do some more damage on the podium,” Fadness said

Bickler had reasons to be ecstatic about her performance as well. After tearing a ligament in her left ankle a week before state last year, she took advantage of having good health this year.

The Packers freshman also claimed a medal on Saturday.

“It’s amazing,” Bickler said of achieving fourth place in floor exercise. “To know where I was last year and that I can come to this point and make it back is just one of the most amazing feelings I could ever have.”

Fadness and Bickler buoyed Coach Mark Raymond’s Austin squad this weekend. Besides the five medals Saturday, the Packers finished fifth in team competition Friday.

Following the award ceremony after Saturday’s individual competition, the 15th-year head coach of the Packers proudly reflected on his gymnasts’ efforts.

“They did a great job,” Raymond said. “I’m really proud of the way they conducted themselves today. It was very business-like, they weren’t distracted, they did what they were supposed to do and it really paid off for them.”

Along with freshman Carolyn Hackel, Fadness and Bickler have developed a strong and youthful nucleus to the team, which excelled on Saturday and can only get better.

“The three of them together push each other real hard on all four events, and that little bit of internal competition has made them as good as they are,” Raymond said of his top three gymnasts. “They have to fight for first, second and third amongst each other every time we go to a dual meet, and without that I’m not sure we would’ve got those last couple tenths today in order to be considered in the top five at state.”

Bickler said she first met Fadness two years ago as a seventh-grader. The two formed a bond together, as well as a friendly rivalry. Fadness competed with a club team in Pine Island last year but the two have been back at it together again this year – something Bickler said she’s very pleased with.

“We’ve gotten pretty close and it’s always good for me to have her to keep myself going,” she said. “It’s awesome to have her back in the gym (at Austin), so we’ve had great experiences as friends as well as teammates.”

Austin’s gymnasts were represented by a large fan base this weekend. Approximately 200 friends, family and students made the more-than-100-mile trek to support their Packers.

Bickler said her school filled two fan buses. She said she’s never seen so much student fan support before and that having that aura this weekend was tremendous.

“The fan support from our school and our community is just amazing,” Bickler said. “To have them in the crowd and being loud, it always gets us pumped up and ready to go. It’s awesome to know that people are there for you.”

Fadness and Bickler were Austin’s lone medalists. Freshman Hackel and eighth-grader Logan Tischer also competed as individuals for the Packers on Saturday.

Complementing her first place floor performance, Fadness posted a third-place finish in vault (with a score of 9.575), came in fourth in uneven bars (9.5) and finished third in all-around competition with a 37.75.

Bickler’s fourth place score in floor was 9.45. She scored a 9.175 in the vault, 8.775 on bars and 8.475 on the beam - placing her at 16th in all-around.

Hackel placed 20th in floor with a 9.15 and 22nd in bars (8.6).

Tischer competed in just one event, floor, where she posted an 8.25.

Other Class A, section one competitors included Pine Island sophomore Siera McNallan, Stewartville junior Kelsi Matuska, Byron-Lourdes junior Jillian Krier and La Crescent junior Haley Traun.

McNallan finished 13th in all-around competition – scoring a 9.35 on vault, 9.25 on floor, 9.025 in bars and 8.65 on the beam.

Matuska placed 25th in the all-around, her top score being a 9.25 on floor.

Melrose Area’s Brinkman was the day’s overall champion, claiming top honors in floor, beam and uneven bars. Her all-around score of 38.15 topped second place Jessica Stelter (of Detroit Lakes) by .175 points. Fadness finished .225 points behind Stelter. Both Brinkman and Stelter are seniors.

**I wrote this story for the Rochester Post-Bulletin and Austin Post-Bulletin. It's coverage of the 2012 Class A state individual competition on Saturday, Feb. 22 2012 at the University of Minnesota's Sports Pavilion.

**The photos were shot and submitted by Post-Bulletin photographer Joe Michaud-Scorza. Descriptions of the photos (from top-to-bottom) are as follows: Austin sophomore Sela Fadness performing her floor routine, Austin freshman Carolyn Hackel competing in uneven bars, Hackel executing her vault dismount. Please visit Joe's photo blog at joescorza.blogspot.com.

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