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Mead’s Zella Conley, middle, receives her first-place medal for vault during the finals of the State 4A meet on Saturday in Tacoma. (Patrick Hagerty / Patrick Hagerty Special to The Spokesman-Review)

State 4A gymnastics: Mead junior Zella Conley wins floor exercise, vault

TACOMA – Growing up in a family as one of 14 children, Zella Conley understands it takes something special to stand out in a crowd.

The junior from Mead made a couple of lasting impressions Saturday in the State 4A gymnastics individual event finals at the Tacoma Dome Exhibition Hall, claiming the vault and floor exercise titles in her second year of high school competition.

Conley, a former Level 9 club gymnast who finished fifth in Friday’s all-around competition, scored 9.6 points on floor and put up a glittering 9.725 on vault to win her two individual championships.

“This was a really good experience,” Conley said, summing up her weekend.

Having finished ninth on floor during Friday’s team competition, on Saturday morning Conley abruptly decided to throw something new into her routine and see what would happen.

“Yesterday I didn’t know you get a 10th off for not having a ‘C’ tumbling pass, so during warmups I put in a layout one-and-a-half instead of a layout full,” she said. “I did it last year, but not this year. It’s a different landing.”

How did it turn out?

“Pretty good,” she said. “I was surprised because this was my first time doing it all year. It was amazing having my floor score go up two-10ths from yesterday. Adding that one skill helped a lot.”

Mead coach Laurie Chadwick said it was a good gamble.

“She’s worked on improving her set and her twist techniques, and we changed her twist techniques,” she said. “The twist techniques she does now actually makes it easier to do the one-and-a-half.”

Conley had qualified to compete in three events. After posting her meet-high vault score, she struggled on uneven bars, eventually stopping and restarting her routine. She finished 14th.

“Bars didn’t go so well,” she said, adding that her usual grips had been misplaced, forcing her to use an older pair. “It was just one event. One event is not going to change the whole meet. So I had to think about the other event (floor), how good I am at the other event and how that can change everything. Just put that behind me.”

Conley, 17, is roughly in the middle of a family of 14 adopted children (eight sisters, six brothers) that span an age range of 11 to 32.

“At one point, all of us were in gymnastics, even my brothers,” she said. “Two of my sisters became coaches.”

Does her family’s influence her as an athlete? “I just find that she’s pretty used to being in a group,” Chadwick said. “When we have to travel as one tight-knit group in a van, it doesn’t bother her at all.”

Ferris junior Jessica Harpel placed sixth on vault (9.4) and eighth on balance beam (8.95) and floor (9.4). University, which placed fifth in Friday’s team competition, had three individual-event qualifiers: Anna Johnson on bars (7.65), and Demri Oglesbee (8.775) and Pam Styborski (8.7) on floor. Woodinville’s Alli McManus won the bars title (9.55) and Naleia Gomes of Mount Rainier (Des Moines) won beam (9.475).