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Regional gymnastics: Freedom Eagles soar back into states

Freedom’s Anna Broussard performs her floor exercise routine Feb. 10 at the regional gymnastics meet.—Times-Mirror/Mike Walgren
If the gymnasium scoreboard at Park View High School displayed real-time point totals, those in attendance at the 5A North regional gymnastics championships Feb. 10 would have known they were watching a nail-biting buzzer-beater.

With strong performances on their floor routines in the final rotation of the meet, the Freedom Eagles triumphed over runner-up Stafford by less than one-half of one point.

Freedom's successful defense of last year's regional title did not come easily.

"When I saw Stafford was here, I was pretty nervous," Freedom's sixth-year head coach Laura Wrighte said. "They're so good and have a great coach. I saw a couple of their girls perform and they did very well, so after that I didn't want to watch them anymore."

The Freedom coach focused solely on her pupils thereafter. She didn't realize her team had won until the final scores were announced.

"I feel great," she said, smiling broadly. "I'm thrilled with the way it turned out, and I'm proud of my girls. They just did everything they could."

The Eagles had some assets on their side, particularly the coach's own daughter. Sophomore Sydney Wrighte lapped the field with her all-around point total of 39.025, more than a full point up on the second-place finisher.

The younger Wrighte won the vaulting horse and uneven bars competitions outright, and tied with Stafford's Naomi Jones for the top score in the floor exercise.

Wrighte said she "stuck" the landing on her vault, felt she "did great" on the floor and produced a satisfying result on the bars. But the Eagles' star noted her effort on the high beam was the most challenging, though she still managed the meet's second-best score.

"I wasn't really hoping for anything, just coming in to get top-8 in each event and see how it goes," the sophomore said. "I was just trying to get to states."

With Wrighte's help, the Eagles placed second at the state meet a year ago. Due to a scheduling conflict, however, she was unable to compete at the individual state championships.

"We want to win it this year," Sydney Wrighte said. "We had a few falls on the beam last year, so we want to do better there and get the rings."

Laura Wrighte boasts a roster of two seniors, one junior and an abundance of up-and-coming gymnasts.

"We have a great future," she said.

The first-year program of Riverside High School, with just freshmen and sophomores, fared well. Coming off the team championship at the Conference 28 meet, the Rams garnered the regional meet's fifth spot and earned the praise of head coach Ibsen Nogueira.

"I'm really, really happy. It's a long day, and they did very well. I could not ask for anything more," said Nogueira, a 25-year veteran of gymnastics coaching, first as a teenager in his native Brazil.

Nogueira complimented his team on their floor exercises, which they performed smoothly and with rhythm, he said.

"I really appreciated the clarity of their movements and their transitions," the Riverside coach said.

The 5A North regional meet included both 4A and 5A programs from Conference 13, 14, 15, 21-East, 21-West and 28.

Next and last on this season's high school gymnastics calendar are the Group 5A state meets, set for Kellam High School in Virginia Beach. The team championship is set for Feb. 19, followed by individual competitors on Feb. 20.

Loudoun Valley's Helen Sternberg embraces coach Jennifer Barlow after Sternberg was honored with the Northern Virginia Gymnastics Officials Association's Outstanding Senior Gymnast Award.--Times-Mirror/Mike Walgren

Surprise honor for Sternberg

Leading off the awards ceremony was a presentation by the Northern Virginia Gymnastics Officials Association, recognizing their chosen recipient of the Outstanding Senior Gymnast Award.

For Loudoun Valley's Helen Sternberg, the honor was a happy surprise.

"I had no idea," the Valley senior said after accepting the award. "I'm a little shocked. Kind of at a loss for words."

The award spotlights a local senior gymnast who demonstrates a high standard on the mat, in the classroom, in her school and in her community. The presentation noted Sternberg's four years as a state-level competitor on the Valley gymnastics team, her 4.0 grade-point average, her position as editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, her membership in the National Honor Society and her talent on the cello.

As Sternberg will attend Hamilton College, a high-academic institution without a gymnastics team, her experience in the 5A North championships figures to be her last as a competitive gymnast. Upon completing her floor exercise - which included a pantomime of the letters 'L' and 'V' - Sternberg shared a hug and a few tears with teammates and coaches.

"I've been doing gymnastics for nine years. To have that one last final floor routine after nine years of dedicating my life to this sport, it's over," she said, trailing off at the thought.

Sternberg placed 15th in the individual all-around standings. That floor routine matched her personal best with a score of 9.25, and her performance on the beam resulted in a personal-best 9.225.

"I could not have asked for a better meet," she said.

Team standings
1. Freedom, 145.832
2. Stafford, 145.482
3. Tuscarora, 144.782
4. Potomac Falls, 140.181
5. Riverside, 139.44
6. Mountain View, 134.79
7. Marshall, 132.707
8. Loudoun Valley, 132.265
9. Woodgrove, 130.908
10. Wakefield, 129.515

1. Sydney Wrighte (F), 39.025
2. Jennah Chang (S), 37.991
3. Emily Brutski (MV), 37.55
4. Erika Hurrell (PF), 37.241

Floor Exercise
1 (tie). Sydney Wrighte (F), 9.75
1 (tie). Naomi Jones (S), 9.75
3. Jennah Chang (S), 9.675
4. Rachel Storm (S), 9.65
5 (tie). Anna Broussard (F), 9.55
5 (tie). Cara Fragala (F), 9.55
7 (tie). Sarah Snare (W), 9.5
7 (tie). Emily Brutski (MV), 9.5

Uneven Bars
1. Sydney Wrighte (F), 9.7
2. Caela Flake (SB), 9.566
3. Christina Bapple (NS), 9.533
4. Claire Pettit (T), 9.433
5. Maddy Howell (R), 9.183
6 (tie). Julie Armand (R), 9.166
6 (tie). Jennah Chang (S), 9.166
8. Emily Brutski (MV), 9.15

Balance Beam
1. Jennah Chang (S), 9.75
2. Sydney Wrighte (F), 9.65
3. Claire Pettit (T), 9.55
4. Emily Brutski (MV), 9.4
5 (tie). Caela Flake (SB), 9.275
5 (tie). Erika Hurrell (PF), 9.275
7 (tie). Helen Sternberg (LV), 9.225
7 (tie). Shelby Harrod (TA), 9.225
7 (tie). Tali Klaff (T), 9.225

1. Sydney Wrighte (F), 9.925
2. Christina Bapple (NS), 9.6
3. Erika Hurrell (PF), 9.575
4. Gabrielle Spranger (Wf), 9.55
5. Emily Brutski (MV), 9.5
6. Maddy Howell (R), 9.425
7. Jennah Chang (S), 9.4
8. Sarah Snare (W), 9.35

Top two teams, top four all-around scores and top eight scores in each event qualify for VHSL 5A state championship meet.

-Photos by Mike Walgren


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