By Josh Brown
TROY — For the past five seasons in a row, Troy has sent one gymnast to the state meet.
This year, the Trojans don’t want anyone to go alone.
With an experienced senior class — led by a pair of returning state qualifiers — and a roster full of individuals from top to bottom, the Troy gymnastics team is poised to be one of the top teams in the area. The only question is whether or not it can be one of the top two.
“Only two teams in the Dayton-Cincinnati district make it to state,” Troy coach Larry McCoppin said. “Troy hasn’t been to state since the 1990s. This could be it. I think we’re going to be one of the top teams in the Dayton-Cincinnati district.”
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Troy’s Jennifer Hanson qualified for the state meet as an individual, finishing her career with a 26th-place finish in 2013. But the past two seasons, two current members of the team — Minori Nakada in 2014 and Claire Buerger last season — competed at the highest level.
As a sophomore, Nakada posted a 33.600 all-around score, with an 8.775 on the vault, 8.650 on the floor, 8.225 on the bars and 7.950 on the beam. She didn’t get the chance to compete last season, though, as she and her sister Sayaka were out of the country on a pre-planned trip the weekend of the district meet.
Buerger did get to compete, though, advancing to state as a junior and placing 32nd with an all-around score of 34.225. She posted an 8.825 on the vault, an 8.65 on the floor, an 8.6 on the beam and an 8.15 on the bars.
With both leading the way this year, the Trojans already have a potent lineup.
“Claire’s just a consistent all-around performer,” McCoppin said. “She gives us all four good events. And Minori, like Claire, helps in all four events and is very consistent.”
Another consistent veteran performer returning to the team this season is senior Kayla Coate, who leads a deep roster full of talent. Joining that roster will be a pair of newcomers in senior Grace Dwyer and freshman Lizzie Deal — a Troy Christian student who, like the Troy hockey team’s Caleb Salazar, is allowed to compete for the Trojans because her home school does not offer her sport.
“Those girls are all very similar to Claire and Minori. They’re very strong all around, and Kayla is particularly strong on the floor and beam,” McCoppin said. “Grace and Lizzie are two new girls that will be huge assets for us.
“Lizzie is actually from Troy Christian, but she gets to compete with us since her school doesn’t offer gymnastics. That rule really helps the kids and the schools.”
And it’s that depth that McCoppin thinks will lead Troy all the way to state.
“It’s great. We just have such great depth this year,” he said. “We’ve got 14 girls on the team, and a good majority of them are going to help us somewhere. Our depth is a real strength for us this year, and with our seniors, we’ve got such good leadership.”
That’s not to say it will be smooth sailing all the way to the promised land, though.
“We need to develop that depth,” McCoppin said. “That’s one of our biggest areas to work on. That and the bars, we’re working a lot harder on the bars. In high school gymnastics, the bars is usually the event that makes or breaks a team.”
The Trojans’ next step will be to host an invitational at Gem City Gymnastics on Monday, the next step on a journey that could lead the team to state.
“Our main goal is to qualify as a team and to get as many individuals to state as we can,” McCoppin said. “Our depth this season makes it so we’re not as dependent on our one or two top persons anymore.
“Troy hasn’t been to state since the 1990s. This could be it.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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