Packer gymnasts are aiming for a big day at state meet

Published 10:02 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Austin gymnastics team has been a model of consistency for nearly a decade, so it may not have been a surprise to the causal onlookers when it came through with a big performance at the Section 1A meet in Pine Island Saturday.

But the Packer team that is now headed to its sixth straight Minnesota Class A state meet admits that they may have surprised themselves when they added three points to their previous best score of the season to put up a score of 148.075 Saturday. Now the Packers are hoping to repeat that accomplishment when they compete in the state meet in the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion 11 a.m. Friday.

“We all just want to go and have as good a day as we had at sections. We were all surprised by our score at sections and to be able to do that again would be big for us,” said Austin senior Paige Raymond, who has been on all six state qualifying teams. “I think it’s a huge accomplishment for us to have new girls make it happen every year. We’ve graduated a lot of good girls and to keep making it to state is huge.”

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Austin’s other senior is Maddie Mullenbach and she’s had plenty of success in the sport. She is the defending Class A all-around state champ and she’s no stranger to coming up big in big meets. Mullenbach has run the full gamut of emotions this week as she’s felt the joy of her teammates’ success and the sorrow of her time with the Packers coming to an end.

Maddie Mullenbach, right, reacts with teammate Jennifer Boyle just before she was named all-around champion at the Minnesota Class A Individual Gymnastics Meet at the University of Minnesota’s Pavillion in 2015. Herald File PHoto

Maddie Mullenbach, right, reacts with teammate Jennifer Boyle just before she was named all-around champion at the Minnesota Class A Individual Gymnastics Meet at the University of Minnesota’s Pavillion in 2015. Herald File PHoto

“I’m really nervous, but I’m mostly sad and I’m a little excited. It’s a little bit of everything,” Mullenbach said. “When you’ve been to sections so many times and you watch all of your teammates faces when they’re like ‘wow I made it’ and they never thought they would’ve made it. That’s crazy and I love it when that happens.”

Mullenbach saw her teammate Jennifer Boyle, a junior, take first in the All-Around at the Section 1A meet and both gymnasts will be contenders to get on the podium in multiple events in Saturday’s individual state meet, which takes place at 11 a.m. in the Pavilion.

While they’re technically be competing against each other in the individual meet, Mullenbach and Boyle, who have competed together for 10 years, are going in as teammates and friends.

“[Jen and I] have been with each other every step of the way and I don’t want that to stop,” Mullenbach said. “I’m realizing the end of the season is right there and I’ll still see these girls and I’ll come visit them, but it won’t be the same as competing with them and practicing with them.”

Boyle is excited to compete with Mullenbach one last time at the state meet.

“We’ve never been like enemies or anything,” Boyle said. “We’ve kept a close friendship and we’re supportive of each other.”

While the Packers always had high hopes this season, their big success didn’t come until late in the season when the team started to crack down on the little things. Suddenly, Austin’s teams scores went from the 142s to the 145s before the breakthrough at the Section 1A meet.

Austin head coach Matt Schmit has enjoyed seeing the team progress this year.

“Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but it certainly opens the door for it. They worked out hard and they deserved it in the end. It couldn’t have gone much better for us in the section meet. There was a lot of red up there on the podium and that was fun to see,” Schmit said. “It’s a grueling sport mentally and physically and we were struggling at the beginning of the year and we started thinking maybe 142 or 143 was where were at. The girls really worked hard.”

Schmit is Austin’s fourth coach in four years, but the Packers haven’t been fazed by the changes in command.

“We haven’t had a very consistent coaching staff,” Boyle said. “Being able to adjust to new coaching staffs has been a struggle, but we’ve been able to work with it.”

Raymond said the team has learned to become independent and rely on each other. She’s also made strides on her own as she will compete in the individual all-around competition for the first time in her career on Saturday.

“It was somewhere I never thought I’d be. I’ve added some skills this year that have made it possible,” Raymond said. “It’s a dream come true.”

While Mullenbach is battling many emotions this weekend, she said she is still focused on having the best day the Packers can have. To do that Austin needs to bring the energy and intensity up to the highest level.

“Cheering makes a huge difference and we’ve got to use our loudest voices, which we’ve been saving for now,” Mullenbach said. “We’ve got to go 100 percent. There’s no reason to hold back anymore.”