BELLEVUE – At the start of the season, when asked to forecast how her team would perform, first-year Mead gymnastics coach Hanna Bjerkestrand predicted her young group would finish fifth in the Greater Spokane League.
Friday night, to both Bjerkestrand’s surprise and unending delight, the Panthers topped off a season of exceeded expectations by placing fourth in the State 4A meet at Sammamish High School.
“What a year,” Bjerkestrand said.
Camas cruised to its third straight State 4A title with a score of 182.45, followed by Woodinville (178.325), North Creek of Bothell (173.475) and Mead (170.325).
Junior Maile Rocha of Ferris placed seventh all-around with a score of 37.075 and posted the meet’s top score on the floor (9.675), a personal best.
“I stayed really tight and stuck everything,” Rocha said. “It was so much fun.”
Mead freshman Averey Seidel finished 16th all-around (35.125).
After serving three years as a Mead assistant following her prep career, Bjerkestrand became head coach when Laurie Chadwick switched to an assistant’s role after 34 years. Bjerkestrand, 22, included another 22-year-old Mead grad, Jenna Schlosser, as an assistant.
Both were part of Chadwick’s 2015 4A championship squad. Schlosser won all-around that year as well as two individual event titles. The two have been friends and gymnastics buddies since age 5.
Bjerkestrand took a deep breath when she stepped into Chadwick’s shoes.
“It’s been fun,” she said. “A little intimidating at times, but fun.”
With no seniors high on the team’s depth chart, Bjerkestrand started with modest expectations.
“The first week of practice was rough,” she said. “We focused on a lot of basics. We knew they were all coming back, so we were going to take this season to clean up what we can and hopefully start next season with a good baseline and be able to build our skills.
“They showed up, from the first practice to the last meet, and worked their booties off,” she said. “Then they won GSL. Then they won regionals. And they got here as a team. They’re just blowing us away. I love this team.”
Schlosser said it isn’t tough coaching high school athletes who are only a few years younger.
“It’s an advantage,” she said. “They listen to us. We understand. We relate to them well.”
“They just need to know that you care,” Bjerkestrand said. “They don’t care how much you know about gymnastics until they know how much you care about them as people.
“We know other aspects of their lives besides this, and rooting for them as people is just as important as rooting for them as gymnasts.”
Mead sophomore Annalise Thackston (23rd in all-around) agreed.
“I actually love it,” she said. “They’re so relatable, and they totally understand what you’re going through, especially in high school.
“Laurie is such a good coach, very good at telling me what my body position should be. But it’s nice to go to practice and know it’s not like another class. If a person is older, they’re giving you more information. This is more like an adventure you get to go through. I don’t know what their age has to do with that, but it’s really cool. I love it.”
Central Valley sent four gymnasts to state: Rebekah Ross, Victoria Axtell, Hanna Michaelis and Mikah Baggot.
Ross finished tied for 21st in the all-around competition and qualified for Saturday’s beam finals.
Three from Lewis and Clark competed: Lyra Mylroie, Jamie Fitzgerald and Isabel Ferney. University sent a pair of competitors: Maya Meeks and Ashley Session.
In the 3A/2A/1A individual finals in the morning, Mt. Spokane junior Gina Twenge earned the second-place medal on balance beam with a score of 9.525 and tied for third on floor with a 9.65. Teammate Sami Zandt placed 15th on floor (9.225).