Magic back at state team meet

MINNEAPOLIS – The landscape at the Class A state gymnastics meet has changed significantly since the last time the Martin County Area Magic qualified as a team, and it’s been only two years.

When Martin County Area – a program comprised of Martin County West and Fairmont student-athletes – steps onto the floor during Friday’s opening team rotation at 11 a.m. at the University of Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion, perennial powerhouse Perham will be absent from the state competition for the first time since 2003.

Perham dominated the Class A state team competition by winning eight straight championships from 2004-11 before Melrose Area slammed the brakes on the Yellowjackets’ incredible run.

Detroit Lakes, the high-scoring long-time sectional runner-up to Perham during the streak, however, finally halted the Yellowjackets’ state-qualifying string at 10 in a row.

“I’m really excited for Detroit Lakes to get a chance at the (Minnesota State High School League) state meet after being denied for so many years,” said Martin County Area mentor LeeAnn Steen, who engineered her program’s eighth state appearance over the last decade.

Senior standout Rebecca Steen’s incredible comeback from a late December injury and second-place showing in the all-around, combined with freshman teammate Bryanna Peterson’s gold-medal performance in the all-around, propelled Martin County Area to a stunning team triumph over two-time Section 3 champion Jackson County Central on Saturday in Marshall.

While Rebecca Steen made school history by earning her sixth individual state bid, the 10-time overall state qualifier represents only one of three Magic gymnasts with competitive experience at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis.

Senior specialist Mackenzie Betts competed on the balance beam during the 2011 state team meet, while senior specialist Briana Gratz served as an alternate on the uneven parallel bars.

As far as penciling in a lineup for the four events on Friday, LeeAnn Steen had not determined her official rotations on Tuesday.

“We’ll run through any difficulties that we had with our routines at the section meet and make some adjustments there,” said Steen. “We rotated in people at the section who were different than our lineup at the (South Central) conference meet, and I’m sure we’ll re-evaluate and maybe make some changes again.

“I see an enormous amount of potential on this team, and I can see them qualifying for state a number of times in the near future. I want them to get the full state experience, so we’ll probably compete as many kids as we can on Friday.”

Now, Steen, along with assistant coaches Brian Steen and Blessing Peterson, will look to assemble a lineup for Friday’s state meet that can match the Magic’s season-high score of 140.65 that produced a Section 3 team championship.

“It’s a deep and talented state field – there’s no doubt about that,” said LeeAnn Steen. “We got a chance to see three – (defending MSHSL state champion) New Prague, (2012 state winner) Melrose and Austin – of the four returning state qualifiers at this year’s True Team State Meet.

“Those three schools are doing skills that we don’t see from other teams – doublebacks off the bars, full-fulls on the floor, layouts on the beam. … I see those three competing for the top honors at the state team meet on Friday.”

North Branch, the Breck School of Golden Valley and Detroit Lakes join Martin County Area as the “newcomers” during Friday’s Class A state team showdown.

While New Prague will look to defend its 2013 team crown, Austin senior Sela Fadness will take aim at a repeat in the all-around during Saturday’s 11 a.m. Class A individual state meet at the U of M’s Sports Pavilion.

Fadness headlines four returning state medalists in the all-around competition after capturing the gold medal a year ago. Austin teammate Maddie Mullenbach, who placed fourth overall in 2013; along with Melrose’s Jailyn Brinkman, fifth; and Detroit Lakes’ Molly Lyngaas, sixth; will be the top competition for MCA’s Peterson and Steen on all four pieces of equipment on Saturday.

Fadness also will shoot at a threepeat on the floor exercise, with Mullenbach (third), Brinkman (fifth) and Austin’s Abby Bickler (sixth) figuring into the state mix.

Fadness also will set her sights on duplicating her uneven parallel bars gold medal from a year ago, with Melrose’s Mady Brinkman being the only other returning medal-winner after netting fifth in 2013.

Peterson, who has dominated the regular-season unevens competition with her front giants, will test the state waters on Saturday.

“Bryanna has an outstanding bars routine, so we’ll see how she fares against the (state) field. Hopefully, after watching her competitors on the event, she’ll be inspired to become a medalist – if not now, but down the road,” said LeeAnn Steen.

Ironically, Rebecca Steen will compete on the balance beam as part of qualifying as an all-arounder, but the Magic senior standout will not get a chance at a third consecutive state medal in the event after placing sixth at the sectional meet.

Fadness will look to improve on her state runner-up showings on both the balance beam and vault.

Defending champion Hannah Wendel of Alexandria, Mullenbach and Willmar’s Haley Mottinger (sixth) will battle Fadness, Steen, Peterson and MCA freshman extraordinaire Martha Olson for honors on the vault.

“Martha has a pretty solid Tsuk, and there will be a lot of them at state on Saturday,” said LeeAnn Steen. “Now the key is for Martha to perform it clean and see how it scores.

“I can see her (Olson) increasing it (vault) to a pike or a layout in the future, and having a good shot to medal at state.”