GYMNASTICS: District-champion Port Angeles sets sights on state meet

TACOMA — For the first time in 21 years, the Port Angeles High School gymnastics team is going to the state 2A/3A meet as district champions.

The state gymnastists meet begins today at the Tacoma Dome’s Exhibition Hall with individual rotations at 11 a.m. and the team competition at 3:15 p.m. The individual event finals will be held Friday beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Before winning the 2A/3A West Central District 3 championship last weekend, Port Angeles’ last district title was in 1996.

This is the third straight year the Roughrider gymnasts have made it to state after appearances in 2010 and 2007.

Coach Megan Hoover said that with Port Angeles being a small city in a rural area, the girls here don’t necessarily train year-round like competitors at the big city schools. Much of that stems from a lack of awareness that off-season training is available, she said.

Others, such as Cassii Middlestead, are involved in separate sports. Middlestead also is an outstanding diver and came within a whisker of winning the state diving championship for the Riders’ girls swim team this fall.

Hoover also encourages girls on the high school team to go out for pole vaulting in the spring because the skills in gymnastics translate well to that track and field discipline.

“In a small town, we don’t have huge gymnastics facilities like some other communities,” she said. She added the program has a great relationship with Port Angeles’ Klahane Gymnastics, which has provided training for much of the talent on the high school team.

Individual hopefuls

Hoover isn’t expecting a state title, but is hoping the team will make some noise. “We like to set attainable goals,” Hoover said.

She said the big goal for the girls is to finish sixth or higher. They finished seventh at state last year and eighth two years ago.

Hoover also is hopeful that at least a couple of the team’s best gymnasts, Maya Wharton and Middlestead, can make it to finals in some individual events. Wharton came in first at districts in the floor exercise (she finished third in all-around points at district), while she thinks Middlestead has a chance to advance in the bars or beam events.

Winning districts for the first time in two decades and making state for three straight years should raise the profile of gymnastics in Port Angeles.

“My hope is that the increased presence of high school gymnastics in our local community will spark more interest in the younger generations and both the high school and the Klahhane programs will benefit from that,” she said.

This will be the final meet for senior Wharton and fellow seniors Nikaila Price and Laura Rooney.

“There’s been a little bit of anxiety on our team. We’re losing three girls who have had a significant presence on the team. [But] we have some great juniors,” Hoover said.

In addition to Port Angeles competing as a team, two Sequim gymnasts — Lesae Pfeffer and Elizabeth Sweet — who practice with the Port Angeles team, qualified for state in the floor exercise.

Johnson honored

For his efforts to keep the Port Angeles gymnastics program going and for his work at the state gymnastics meet, Port Angeles Athletic Director Dwayne Johnson will be inducted in the state Gymnastics Hall of Fame tonight.

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Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]

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