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GYMNASTICS: Cats bring home more hardware

Freshman Autumn Tiede, left, senior Sam Krueger and freshman Madison Berg pose for a picture after combining for a total of six medals at the WIAA Individual State Gymnastics Championships Saturday, March 3, in Wisconsin Rapids. Photo courtesy of Lauren Kaminski 1 / 2
Members of the Wildcat gymnastics team arrive at the high school on top of the River Falls Fire Department's ladder truck after a welcome home ride through town Sunday, March 4. The Wildcats earned the WIAA Division 2 runner-up trophy at the state gymnastics tournament for the third straight year Friday, March 2, in Wisconsin Rapids. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Riding through downtown River Falls on top of a fire truck never gets old for Wildcat gymnastics coach Lauren Kaminski.

Kaminski made four of those trips as a gymnast with the Wildcats from 2002-05, one as an assistant coach, and the last three years as head coach, including this past Sunday, March 4, after the Cats earned their third straight runner-up trophy at the WIAA State Gymnastics Championships.

"That's eight out of the 10 years I've been involved," she said. "That's really cool to get to experience, and really fun for the girls to experience."

The Wildcats added their latest hardware after finishing just 1.17 points behind three-time Division 2 state champion Whitefish Bay Friday, March 2, in Wisconsin Rapids. Whitefish Bay posted a total of 141.7167 to edge River Falls' score of 140.55 for the third straight year.

After posting a season high score on the vault, and having what Kaminski described as "some little wobbles" on the uneven bars and balance beam, the Wildcats laid it all out in their final event of the meet—the floor exercise—to maintain their lead over Mount Horeb for second place.

"At the end we knew it was going to be close and we were hoping for that top spot, but to make the trip to the podium again and bring home a trophy was really exciting and fun for all the girls," Kaminski said.

The Wildcats opened the meet with a score of 36.033 in the vault, led by senior Sam Krueger with a 9.433. Freshman Autumn Tiede added a 9.133 and junior Natalie Swick scored 8.9.

"Natalie Swick has worked really hard on her vault all season and she just hit it," Kaminski said. "It was a really exciting moment for everybody."

The coach said there was a little bit of a reality check on the uneven bars, where the team scored 33.217.

"We had a big start then we went to bars and we had some little wobbles here and there and the judging was a little tough," she said. "The routines were still strong even though the scores weren't what we're used to seeing."

Kaminski said Krueger helped the Wildcats get back on track on the balance beam, closing the event with a score of 9.567.

"Sam was last on beam and she finished with a perfect routine and stuck it, so that was exciting," Kaminski said. "She came on in the clutch in that one."

The Cats then gave it their all on the floor.

"That's where we excel the most and feed off the energy of the building," Kaminski said. "I just told the girls, have fun, smile and enjoy yourselves, and they did a great job of that. They really fed off the energy and showed great showmanship on floor; it was fun to see."

Kaminski said she was extremely impressed with the performances of freshmen Tiede, Madison Berg, Eva Mikla and Isabel Seyffer in their first time at state.

"That was really cool to see," she said. "Most years we have our first meet of the season at Rapids in the same fieldhouse, so it's kind of nice for the freshmen to get to see it. This year we had the invite but they had it in a different space so they didn't get to have that preview of state like in years past. But they still did a great job of handling the state meet excitement and pressure. I think they had fun with it. The energy in there is unlike anywhere else."

Tiede went on to earn a third place medal in the floor exercise and finished 14th in the all-around at the individual state competition the following day while Berg placed fourth on the uneven bars.

"I think they surprised themselves," Kaminski said. "We knew they had good performances, so once they called that sixth place number, and you knew theirs was above that, it's just really an exciting feeling and I think they both were really excited to get a medal their freshman year. It was awesome and a huge accomplishment."

Kaminski said the Wildcats' goal is always a state championship, and this year's team showed it will be in contention for years to come.

"We had a really good season so we all kind of reflected back that we've come a long way from the beginning to the end as far as our confidence and improving our routines and themselves as athletes and that was really fun to see," she said. "We made big strides."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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