Magic ready to vault into opener

WELCOME – The Martin County Area gymnasts have adopted the credo, “Nothing runs like a Magic gymnast. We don’t quit ’til the job gets done.”

After taking a glance at the Magic roster’s high-value skills and depth, veteran mentor LeeAnn Steen’s realistic addendum could be, “A year of seconds last season to a year of firsts this season.”

Steen engineered seven consecutive state team appearances from 2005-11 before long-time rival Jackson County Central ended the Magic/Mavericks’ incredible sectional run during the last two seasons.

Martin County Area, who captured the 2012 South Central Conference Meet crown after losing the league’s regular-season dual-meet title that year, netted runner-up honors in both the SCC Meet and dual-meet competition last season.

But the Magic return a veteran and talent-laden lineup to the equipment this season, and will look to literally vault to the top of the medal stand in 2013-14.

“We have a lot of varsity experience coming back,” said LeeAnn Steen, whose lineup opens the season by traveling to Luverne on Tuesday night for a nonconference dual meet. The meet was originally set for Thursday, but was moved up two days due to a scheduling conflict.

“We have five seniors returning, but I try not to think about that because I know at the end of the season that I will have to say goodbye and try to replace them next season,” LeeAnn Steen continued.

One of those highly-skilled seniors will be eight-time state qualifier Rebecca Steen – the third and youngest daughter of the Magic’s head coach, and MCA assistant coach Brian Steen.

Rebecca Steen steps to the vault runway for her sixth and final varsity campaign on the heels of a fifth-place medal on the balance beam at the 2013 Class A state individual meet and second straight eighth-place all-around showing at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

The 2013 Section 3A vault champion also nearly made a clean sweep of the individual accolades at last season’s SCC Meet, capturing the all-around, vault, balance beam and floor exercise championships.

Senior standouts Mackenzie Betts, Kersten Shantz, Briana Gratz and Brooklyn Leichtnam will rejoin the Steen family on the equipment for the upcoming schedule.

While Gratz bounces back from an injury to return to competition this winter, unfortunately, Leichtnam will miss all 15 regular-season meets due to a torn ACL sustained during the fall season.

Ironically, Gratz missed the majority of her junior campaign when she tore the ACL and meniscus in her knee during the second meet of 2012-13.

Betts, who delivered clutch points on the vault and beam at last year’s sectional meet, and Kersten Shantz, another solid-scoring specialist throughout last season, round out the Magic’s talented senior core.

Freshman Martha Olson also brings scoring punch back to the gym after earning a sixth-place medal in the Section 3A Meet’s vault competition and capturing the silver medal on the same piece of equipment in the SCC Meet.

Junior Lexy Ringnell also delivered key points by claiming a sixth-place SCC medal on the floor exercise, while freshman Jenna Steele made an impact by placing seventh – just one spot shy of a medal – during last year’s sectional balance beam competition.

Sophomore Sydney Leichtnam, juniors Michaela Twitchell and Kayla Shantz, freshmen Maggie Bachenberg and Andrea Thate, and eighth-grader Brielle Meade all return after making stellar contributions as Magic specialists last season.

But the talent does not stop there as senior Beraiah Peterson and freshman Bryanna Peterson rejoin forces with Steen and company this season.

“Both Petersons are strong all-arounders, and they (Beraiah and Bryanna), along with their older sisters Bethany and Blessing, have been a part of either our youth or high school gymnastics programs in the past,” LeeAnn Steen said in reference to the pair of home-schooled student-athletes who reside near Trimont. “We’re excited to have both of them back in the gym.”

LeeAnn Steen expects strong competition from SCC champion New Ulm in league action, while Section 3A champion JCC and Worthington will represent the top rivals vying for the sectional crown.

Martin County Area plays host to Windom Area on Thursday, Dec. 12, in its home-opening dual meet at 6 p.m. in Welcome.