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Shining stars: Wilcats clinch conference title

River Falls senior Sam Krueger performs her final home floor routine at the Big Rivers Conference Gymnastics Tournament Friday, Feb. 16, at Meyer Middle School. Krueger won the event on her way to winning the all-around title to help the Cats wrap up the BRC title with a first place score of 142.2. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
Wildcat junior Natalie Swick performs a backflip during her floor routine at the Big Rivers Conference Gymnastics Tournament Friday, Feb. 16, at Meyer Middle School. Swick finished fifth in the event with a score of 9.3 to help the Cats wrap up the BRC title. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Wildcat gymnastics coach Lauren Kaminski told her team to go out and have fun at the Big Rivers Conference Tournament Friday, Feb. 16 at Meyer Middle School.

So what did the Cats do? They went out and posted their highest score of the season to wrap up their third straight conference title and eighth in the last 10 years.

"Our goal was to go out and have fun, but we also wanted to have the best meet of our season," Kaminski said. "To finally hit our goal of a 140-plus feels really good, especially at this point in the season."

Senior Sam Krueger won the conference all-around title for the second straight year and a host of Wildcats posted personal best scores to give the Cats their best team score of the season heading into the WIAA Division 2 sectional meet this Saturday Feb. 24, in West Salem. The Wildcats, state runners-up in 2017, will be looking for their 17th straight trip to state.

Krueger, the two-time defending state champion in the floor exercise, and 2016 state champion in the vault, won both events Friday night with scores of 9.65 on the floor and 9.45 on the vault. She added a third place score of 8.9 on the balance beam and took fourth on the uneven bars with 9.075 to win the all-around title with a total of 37.075.

Krueger was one of four Wildcats to earn scores of 9.0 or better in the floor exercise. Junior Natalie Swick posted a personal best score of 9.3 to place fifth in the event and freshman Autumn Tiede scored 9.075 while freshman Eva Mikla earned a personal best 9.025.

"We started off with high energy on floor and had an excellent set," Kaminski said about the opening rotation.

The Cats carried that energy over to the vault, where in addition to Krueger's first place performance Mikla and Swick posted personal best scores of 8.9 and 8.85, respectively.

The Wildcats followed that up with their best set of the season on the uneven bars, with four of their five competitors earning personal best scores, including freshman Madison Berg with a third place score of 9.125 and Krueger in fourth with 9.075. Tiede also had a personal best of 8.775 and Cat Stewart PR'ed with 8.45.

"Everyone had clean routines and scores to reflect them," Kaminski noted.

Krueger ended the night with a third place score of 8.9 on the balance beam and Tiede was fourth with 8.825 while Mikla and junior Kassidy Snell each posted 8.025.

Kaminski said Mikla and Tiede both stuck their beam routines.

"To see that kind of confidence from freshmen team members was exciting," she said. "They should be very proud of their performances and contribution to the team."

Tiede ended up finishing fifth in the all-around with a total score of 35.425 despite competing in the all-around for just the fourth time in her high school career.

"Overall, the girls maintained good energy all night and had the meet we've been wanting to see for awhile now," Kaminski said.

This Saturday's sectional meet will begin at 11 a.m. at West Salem High School. The top two teams and the top five individuals in each event will advance to the WIAA Division 2 State Championships Friday and Saturday, March 1-2, at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School.

Kaminski said judging by the effort at the conference meet, she likes the Wildcats' chances.

"These were the performances and this was the score that this team is capable of earning," she said. "I'm really looking forward to keeping this energy going through the post-season and to finish out the season with confidence."

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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