Top of the world: Sam Krueger brings home gold

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Sam Krueger said she wasn't nervous until awards time came around at the WIAA Individual State Gymnastics Championships in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, March 3, in Wisconsin Rapids.

"Obviously I was a little bit nervous but nothing compared to state in past seasons, just because I knew it was my last time doing it so all I wanted to do was have fun," the Wildcats' lone senior said. "I didn't want to end with any regrets so I laid it all out there and tried to have fun and soak it all in. I think that helped me a lot because I didn't really even think about it. I wasn't really paying attention to my scores until the awards ceremony, and then I got really nervous."

There was no need to. By that time Krueger had cemented herself as one of the most prolific gymnasts in Wisconsin high school history.

Krueger won her third straight state title in the floor exercise and won the vault for the second time after winning it as a sophomore in 2016. She added state titles on the balance beam and the all-around to give her seven state championships in her career, one of just four individuals to win seven or more state titles since the WIAA began sponsoring gymnastics in 1971.

Wildcat head coach Lauren Kaminski said gymnasts like Krueger don't come around every day.

"To win one event three times? That alone is amazing," Kaminski said. "But to have four championships this year alone is just incredible. Those are some huge shoes, and they aren't going to be filled anytime soon."

After setting the state meet record on the floor with a 9.9 last year, she claimed her third title Saturday with a 9.567 to become the first gymnast to accomplish the feat in that event since 2001-03.

She was credited with a score of 9.467 to win her second state title in the vault. Prior to finishing runner-up last year, she won the title in 2016. She was champion on the balance beam with a score of 9.45 after placing second last season and fourth in 2016.

Krueger's score of 8.467 on the uneven bars gave her a four-event total of 36.95 and the state all-around title. She placed third in the all-around last season and fourth in 2016.

While she said she wasn't nervous, she admitted there was some pressure to end her career on a high note.

"I don't want to say I ignored it, but I just put it to the back and paid more attention to my teammates and stuff because they take the pressure away," she said. "We all work really good together as a team and it takes away the pressure that we have as individuals."

One day earlier Krueger helped the Wildcats bring home their third straight runner-up trophy in the state team competition. She said there were added challenges to performing at team state and individual state on back-to-back days.

"It's not as hard as it is frustrating because you might have a better day on Friday or vice versa," she said. "I want to do what I can to help the team so I'm not going to hold back that day. It's just very unfamiliar because after meets we usually have a day off or a practice. It can be hard on your body, especially being with the team and not getting a lot of sleep, but knowing this was the last one I feel like I just had to give it my all."

Krueger ends her career as the school record holder in the vault, floor exercise, balance beam and all-around as well as the state record holder on floor. She plans to attend UW-Eau Claire next year to study elementary education, but said it will be tough saying goodbye to her teammates.

"Our program literally feels like a home," she said. "We're all familiar and I've been doing it for so long. After beam I looked at MK (Michaela Kramolis) and she was crying and she said, 'You're like done! You've just been here forever! You can't leave!' And I was like, you're right and I started bawling even more. It's just so familiar; I've never not been a part of it. It's hard to explain; it's just always been there and such a huge part of my life."

Kaminski said the feeling is mutual.

"An athlete like her doesn't come around very often," she said. "She's made a huge impact on the program and we're going to miss her.