Gymnasts pull off stunner, qualify for state

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Rob Reischel
Taylor Engelkes and Middleton's girls gymnastics team qualified for state after finishing second at the La Crosse Logan Sectional./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The Middleton faithful that traveled to La Crosse were crunching the numbers.

And as the WIAA Division 1 La Crosse Logan Sectional unfolded last Friday, the Cardinals’ fans began to buzz.

Down on the floor, though, things were different.

Middleton’s upstart gymnastics team knew they had just finished one of their top meets of the season. But the Cardinals weren’t sure how that shaped up against the rest of the field.

“A lot of the adults knew what was going on,” Middleton’s Taylor Engelkes said. “But we didn’t know until they started reading off the scores.”

The Cardinals were pleasantly surprised.

Middleton gave one of its finest performances of the year and qualified for the WIAA Division 1 state team competition for the eighth straight year. Madison Memorial won the Logan Sectional with a 136.6250 team score, while the Cardinals were second at 135.50.

In addition to the top two teams from sectionals advancing to state, the top five place-winners in each individual event and all-around advance to individual state.

Middleton’s performance came as a surprise to many after it finished sixth at the Big Eight Conference meet with a team score of 130.825 just six days earlier. Amazingly, though, the Cardinals improved their score by nearly five full points and kept their streak of state team tournament appearances alive.

The state team competition begins Friday at 2 p.m. at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Fieldhouse. The individual competition will be held Saturday beginning at 11:30 a.m.

“I think as coaches we knew what the girls were capable of,” Middleton coach Kari Steck said. “Really, they work all season for this one meet, so it's perfect timing that it would all come together just in time.

“(Middleton assistant coach) Cullen (Steck) sat the girls down the Monday after conference and said, ‘Look, this is what you are capable of doing. Don't give up on yourselves or rule it out.’ I think that really opened the girls' eyes up and showed them exactly what they are capable of.”

Middleton senior Jordan Baggot, who won the all-around competition at sectionals, agreed with her head coach.

“After conference, we talked to each other about what we had to work on as team,” Baggot said. “We knew our potential and we sat down, talked about the numbers and then worked hard.

“So this was definitely a good surprise. I think we knew we had the potential for higher scores if we put all pieces together.”

Baggot has certainly put the pieces together in a sensational senior season.

Baggot was 19th at state last year in the all-around competition, but could be poised for even better results in her final meet.

Baggot posted a 35.675 all-around score at sectionals after winning the floor exercise (9.550) and the vault (9.0), and placing sixth on the balance beam (8.775) and the uneven bars (8.350).

Baggot will now lead the Cardinals at the team competition, then aim for a big finish at individual state.

 “It was definitely rewarding to finish like I did at sectionals,” said Baggot, who will not compete collegiately. “Over the years, I’ve had small goals that I’ve tried to attain so I could just keep improving. Now, I just want to finish on a good note.”

Steck said that while Baggot has excelled in the gym this season, she’s been just as valuable leading a young Middleton team.

“We had several teams come up to us at sectionals and say how cool it was that the whole team came and supported each other and cheered each other on,” Steck said. “I think that's the goal that we as coaches try to accomplish — creating that atmosphere of support, and definitely a role that Jordan has stepped into as our captain. She kept the girls calm, motivated, and positive throughout the meet.”

Engelkes also qualified as an individual all-arounder after finishing fourth at sectionals with a 35.125.

Englekes was third on the beam at sectionals (8.90), third on the floor exercise (9.350), fifth on the uneven bars (8.350) and ninth on the vault (8.50).

“Whatever happens, happens,” Engelkes said of state. “This year has been so much fun and it’s a great group of girls that gets along. This is all a lot of fun and there’s a really good vibe in the gym going to state.”

Middleton’s Ella Mock was 11th on the floor (8.950), 13th on the bars (7.80) and 18th on the beam (8.275). Emily Bernd was 16th on the vault (8.225), 22nd on the floor (8.650), 26th on the bars (7.40) and 29th on the beam (7.30), while Mattie Joers was 21st on the vault (8.10).

“Honestly, I told the girls I had a speech prepared for the bus ride home of how proud I was of them and how much they had grown, regardless of whether or not we qualified,” Steck said. “It was a great surprise, but something as coaches we definitely knew the girls were capable of. It makes it a little more fun when our sectional is tough and the race is tight, and definitely makes it rewarding for the girls.”

It also led to a pretty memorable celebration.

“Everybody was just so excited, tearing up and crying,” Engelkes said. “It was just so cool to make it after having one of the last spots at conference.

“The bus ride home was crazy. We were all so pumped and snap chatting. It’s so crazy. I’m just very proud of everybody.”

Middleton’s team score at sectionals was the lowest among the 10 teams that qualified for state. So few will expect the Cardinals to do much damage at team state Friday.

That’s just fine with Middleton.

No one expected the Cardinals to still be competing. And anything that happens from here on out is a bonus.

“We just want to enjoy our last meet and not put pressure on ourselves,” Baggot said. “We’re all just really excited to still have our season going.”

Steck agreed.

“I think we always go into state with the whatever happens, happens attitude,” she said. “It's our last hoorah as a team, and will be a celebration of how far the girls have come this year.”


La Crosse Logan sectional

Team scores: Madison Memorial 136.625, Middleton 135.5, Madison West 134.625, Waunakee/DeForest 132.825, Verona/Madison Edgewood 132, Onalaska co-op 129.175, Madison East/La Follette 119.875, La Crosse Logan/Central 119.4.

Balance beam: 1, Bender, MM, 9.15; 2, DeAngeles, MW, 8.925; 3, Engelkes, Mid, 8.9; 4, Hellen, MM, 8.85; 5, Lansing, LCL, 8.8.

Vaulting: 1, Baggot, Mid, 9.0; 2, Hellen, MM, 8.875; 3, Keller, WD, 8.825; 4 (tie), Veak, VME, and Dohnal, VME, 8.8.

Uneven bars: 1, DeAngeles, MW, 8.7; 2, Powers, WD, 8.525; 3, Rios, MM, 8.475; 4, Bender, MELF, 8.425; 5, Engelkes, Mid, 8.375.

Floor exercise: 1, Baggot, Mid, 9.55; 2, Keller, WD, 9.5; 3, Engelkes, Mid, 9.35; 4, DeAngeles, MW, 9.25; 5 (tie), Lansing, LCL, and Bender, MELF, 9.15.

All-around: 1, Baggot, Mid, 35.675; 2, Bender, MELF, 35.425; 3, DeAngeles, MW, 35.175; 4, Engelkes, Mid, 35.125; 5, Carlson, MM, 33.975.



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