MIDDLETON — Gymnastics became a head-to-head team sport for Sun Prairie and Middleton during Saturday’s Big Eight Conference meet.
Sun Prairie — winner of the past three conference titles — and Middleton could have confused the most observant fan into thinking Saturday’s competition was an old-fashioned dual meet.
The two schools went at it back-and-forth throughout the afternoon. The rotations were set up so that every time one team was on the floor, the other was in the stands, watching.
At the end of the day, Middleton prevailed, posting a score of 138.55 points, just 0.725 points ahead of its rival.
“This was huge, just being able to beat a really good program and snapping our second-place streak in the conference,” Middleton coach Kari Steck said. “Everything is coming together at the right time for us.”
A big reason for that is junior Karina Sabol, who’s in her first year with the high school program after success at the club level. She claimed victories in the balance beam (9.70 points) and floor exercise (9.575), and placed second in the vault (9.350).
“I’m really proud of it, and I’m just really proud of our team and how far we’ve come this season,” Sabol said. “Not just as individuals, but our bond as a team has strengthened.”
Said Steck: “Karina has definitely raised the bar for our program. The other girls look up to her and respect her, and she’s a really knowledgeable gymnast. She’s always very helpful at practice, pushing the team forward.”
Sabol had competed with the Madtown Twisters over the past couple of years. In addition to the change to high school competition, she sustained a bilateral elbow dislocation in February, 2017 — and she is still not medically cleared to compete on the uneven bars.
“I was out until June, no practice or anything,” Sabol said.
Because of the injury, Sabol was not eligible in the all-around competition.
The all-around title was claimed by Madison United (East/La Follette) senior Tyra Turner, with 36.15 points. Sun Prairie senior Allayah Lane was runner-up at 36.0.
“I’m speechless. this is just surreal,” said Turner. “That was my goal going into this year. ... I put a lot of pressure on myself. So this feels pretty good.”
Turner also won the vault (9.50) and tied for the first on the uneven bars with Sun Prairie sophomore Amelia McDermott (8.45).
By the end of the third rotation, both Middleton and Sun Prairie were tied with 102.70 points.
After a stellar showing on the floor by Sun Prairie in the seventh rotation, the hosts needed a higher score on the vault than any team had accomplished to that point.
“Last year, at our last dual meet against Sun Prairie, we were both undefeated and we tied,” Steck said. “That’s pretty uncommon, when you have tenths and everything. It just doesn’t happen.
“So going into that last round when we were exactly tied, that was pretty crazy. It put a fun twist on things; the girls knew we had to give it our all, and they did.”
Not only did they surpass each of their Big Eight foes in the discipline, but Middleton’s score of 35.85 on the vault was a full point higher than the previous top mark held by Sun Prairie.
Steck attributed the victory to the poise exhibited by her team’s leaders. Alongside Sabol, senior Chole Young, who placed third in the all-around, and junior Jordan Baggot, who took sixth, have been leaders and motivators.
“They all encourage the girls and make them want to be better, every single day.” Steck said.
Said Sabol: “I really enjoy being around this team and having that connection with the rest of my teammates. It’s an unbelievable feeling to share this together, we just need to keep supporting each other and the rest will take care of itself.”
Mount Horeb’s six-year run as Badger Conference champions came to an end by the slimmest of margins on Saturday, as conference newcomer Watertown scored 138.05 points and Mount Horeb totaled 138.00.
Watertown senior Katie Curtis scored 35.875 points to win the all-around, followed by Milton senior Ashley Thompson (35.5) and Mount Horeb senior Krista Taylor (35.375).
Curtis also won floor exercise (9.475), and Goslings senior Claire Vitale won uneven bars (8.95).
Waunakee/DeForest junior Tailyn Keller won balance beam (9.2), on her way to a fourth-place finish in the all-around and a third-place team finish.
Monona Grove junior Payton Jenks-Recker won vaulting (9.3).