Only one team from the Greater Spokane League qualifies for the State 4A gymnastics tournament.
Mead has consistently taken the GSL torch, advancing to state in 10 of the last 13 seasons.
But Central Valley is looking to buck the trend and advance to its first state tournament in school history at the 4A regional meet next week.
In order to do so, it will have to get by the Panthers, who will once again be in the way of any potential state berth for a different GSL school.
Mead finished the regular season undefeated in league (9-0), scoring 163.6 points per meet. CV placed second (7-2) at 163.3 points.
Just last week, the Panthers edged the Bears 167-159 at the 4A qualifying meet. Senior Victoria Axtell placed second in the vault, and junior Hanna Michaelis was third in the floor routine.
Since that meet, CV has implemented a new technique into its practice routine.
It is a new mental approach, in which the gymnasts lay on their backs with their eyes closed and visualize their success. They imagine their routine in their heads, and if they see themselves falling or failing, it is their job to see themselves get back on the beam or finish their routine.
Success is just as much mental as physical, co-head coach Lizzie Roberg said. But it also helps to be physically ready for the challenges ahead.
“I think that we have a really good trainer,” she said. “And he has been helping us with our (mental and physical) strength. I think strength and conditioning is huge, helping these girls stay healthy.”
Another plus throughout this season has been the addition of new equipment.
The Central Valley School District approved new bars and a new spring floor last year, which has helped the Bears increase their level of success. It allows them to practice everything at school in a safer, more complete facility.
Before the spring floor, the gymnasts practiced on wrestling mats or had to travel to a different location to use proper equipment.
“If you work out on good equipment and then you go to meet with good equipment, you’re going perform a lot better because you’re not going from like a wrestling mat to a spring floor,” Roberg said.
It also helps to have three team leaders who have been in the program and know what the expectations are.
Axtell and fellow seniors Lizzy Conrad and Aliyah Adams are the foundation, with juniors Michaelis and Rebekah Ross in support. They lead with different styles, but they come together to provide a well-rounded support system.
“(Aliyah) is that loud leader who you just want to listen to her because she is so confident,” Roberg said. “Lizzie is hilarious and fun and she doesn’t care if she succeeds, she really cares about the team.
“And (Victoria) is just a sweetheart and she’s sensitive and she’s been in the gym the longest (with her club team) that I think she has learned a lot about being a part of a team. Having a club gymnast change into a leader is really helpful too.”
As the week progress, CV will lean on itself – and its captains – more than anything. They are a close-knit group who have weekly team dinners and events.
“(The captains) try to put together little gifts for everybody before every meet, just as a little token of encouragement,” Adams said. “We try to do everything just to get everybody to bond. We have lots of team dinners and we try to coordinate just to keep our connection between everyone on the team really close.”
But with so many different backgrounds among the athletes, the only consistent rallying point is that they all want to get to state.
“It doesn’t really matter when it comes down to us as a team, because we’re all so supportive of everyone, no matter what level you are in,” Adams said. “So I think just coming together and being able to bond as a team, it really just creates this energy that helps us be successful.”
No matter the result, Adams has been instructing her team to lean on the relationships and the memories that are currently being built.
“It is important that everyone recognizes how much we’ve come together this year and how far we’ve come with our scores and our relationships with each other,” Adams said. “I think the most important thing is going in with a positive attitude and a lot of energy and I think that will help us be most successful.”
That allows co-head coaches Roberg and Brittney Schmidt to oversee the team and to continue to help grow their athlete’s mental and physical skills. It has allowed them to position the Bears to do something no other former CV gymnastics program has ever done.
“I think that it is going to be a very fun meet to come watch because there is a higher level of gymnastics,” Roberg said. “I am really excited to see the outcome and I hope that everyone is healthy and no one gets injured.
“And I’m excited to be able to compete against (Mead). We’re neck-and-neck and I think it’s going to be a really fun meet.”