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Room to Grow

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Connersville senior Autumn Blaes performs on the uneven bars at the 2018-19 CHS Gymnastics Preview Night, inside the CHS gymnasium on Dec. 12, 2018. Blaes returned to the Connersville team for her senior season after missing her junior campaign with the Lady Spartans.
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The 2018-19 Connersville High School seniors gather for a photo, following CHS’ fourth-place finish at the IHSAA sectional meet inside Spartan Bowl on Feb. 23. Front row, left to right: Caroline Arndt, Kenzy Lynch and Kelsey Smith. Middle row (seated): Katelyn Burris and Ali Sargent. Back row: Elaina McCreary, Autumn Blaes and Hanne DeSutter.
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Connersville’s Kenzy Lynch goes through her balance beam routine. Lynch was injured late midway through the season, having her senior season cut short.

By GRADY TATE - gtate@newsexaminer.com

Success and the Connersville High School gymnastics team, particularly in the postseason, are terms that have gone hand-in-hand nearly four decades.

Winners of 19 sectionals — only Valparaiso, Wawasee, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Marion have won more — Lady Spartan gymnastics has, more often than not, been the dominant brand in East Central Indiana since the team first hit the mats in 1982.

That could be changing.

In 2018-19, Connersville finished with a 5-3 regular-season record. The three losses for the Spartans were against Richmond, New Palestine and New Castle.

All three of those teams were among the 11 schools joining CHS at the sectional meet inside Spartan Bowl on Feb. 23.

At that postseason meet, the trend continued.

Richmond won the sectional crown with a score of 103.750. New Palestine was next at 102.050 and New Castle claimed third place and the final regional qualification with a score of 98.650

And where was Connersville? The Spartans wound up fourth and missed advancing to the regional with a score of 94.250.

So it goes without saying that coach Joann Borders' charges are going to have to draw a target, maybe even several of them next season, if the goal of taking the team back to the regional is to be realized.

Connersville did manage to get one gymnast to the Columbus East regional this season, as sophomore Allison Hoffman finished fourth on the balance beam at the sectional, assuring her a spot at the next level in that event.

"I think that was probably my favorite thing this season, to see Allison put together a strong enough beam routine to make it to the regional," Borders said. "I think there were a couple more girls on the team that could have made it in one or more of the other events, but that didn't happen."

Hoffman's return in 2019-20 is good news for the Spartans. They will need her scores and leadership, not only on the beam, but in all events going forward.

The bad news is that four reliable seniors will net be returning, as Autumn Blaes, Katelyn Burris, Kenzy Lynch and Ali Sargent are moving on.

All four were dependable scorers for Connersville, and all of them will be missed.

"It will be tough to replace them, that's for sure," Borders said. "We've got a good group coming back but it's still tough to lose strong gymnasts like that.

Along with the four competitors, the Spartans will lose four team managers — Caroline Arndt, Elaina McCreary, Kelsey Smith and Hanne DeSutter.

"The managers have been so valuable to the team," Borders said. "They have all done an amazing job and were all a great help to me and the team."

On the mat, Burris will be the toughest loss, the all-around performer at or near the top of the podium in nearly every event this season.

"She was a leader all four seasons that she competed for the varsity," Borders said. "This year, she shared that role with Allison (Hoffman)."

Blaes and Sargent will be difficult to replace, not only for their senior leadership, but for their scoring reliability from one meet to the next. Sargent was an all-around performer, while Blaes displayed her skills on the vault and uneven bars.

Lynch was also an all-around contributor before an injury to both ankles sidelined her for the latter part of the season.

"This was Kenzy's best season, so it was sad to see her suffer that injury," Borders said.

Borders won't be left with no talent heading into next season, far from it.

The 2018-19 season opened with several young gymnasts battling for spots on the roster. Eight freshmen and four sophomores suited up for CHS prior to the campaign.

In that freshman group was five USA gymnasts — Grace Barnes, Kaylynn Mohr, Madison Mullins, Stevie Rheinhardt and Brooke Sudhoff.

"I was excited to have some kids with experience," Borders said. "That told me that I was going to have an experienced team going in."

Unfortunately, the CHS coach added that the work ethic to foster that talent wasn't quite where it should have been.

"These girls all know what it takes to become stronger gymnasts," she said. "I hope that going forward they realize that to improve, they're going to need to keep working hard."

That said, Borders did add that she noted improvement by some of her younger gymnasts.

"I think that Kaylynn showed improvement nearly every week," she said. "I also saw a lot of improvement from Grace. Stevie and Brooke gained more and more confidence as the season progressed and that helped make them good competitors, as well."

Joining Hoffman in the leadership role next season will be Delaynee Hall and Victoria Metcalfe, all three of whom will be juniors.

"They're the future of the team, starting right now," Borders said. "I'm not sure I have talked to them enough about that. They need to figure out how hard they want the team to work and what they want to accomplish."