By Josh Brown
TROY — After the first event at the district meet, a hint of worry crept into Larry McCoppin’s mind.
“I was a little concerned,” the Troy gymnastics coach said. “Our first event started really bad. It was probably our worst bars session of the year. It wasn’t that we completely fell apart, though, It was just that a few girls didn’t have their best routine. But things slowly got better.”
The Trojans turned things around so much, in fact, that they won the district championship as a team, scoring 139.15 total team points to defeat Centerville’s 135.9, earning their first trip to the state meet as a team in 16 years. The Troy team will compete Friday at Hilliard Bradley High School, and four athletes will return on Saturday for the individual competition.
And though the slow start on the bars was only a little worrisome — even though the Trojans had their first individual state qualifier of the day with Minori Nakada’s second-place finish with an 8.825 — it was really the way the district competition was set up, the unpredictable difference between the morning and afternoon sessions, that concerned McCoppin most.
“Our main rival Centerville was in the second session, and we were in the first,” McCoppin said. “Sometimes in the second session, the scores will elevate a bit. At the beginning of the day, I wasn’t really pleased. Starting off three points behind our normal pace, combined with scores possibly going up in the second session, could’ve not gone well.”
But with the team the Trojans have this season, not even that could keep them from their goal.
“We went from the bars to the beam, and we were very consistent there,” McCoppin said. “We didn’t really get big scores, though. We had good routines, but we still were not getting the scores we probably should have.”
Abby Baker finished fifth on the beam with an 8.75 and earned an individual spot at state and four other Trojans scored 8.65 or higher — but Troy truly began to use that forward momentum on the floor.
Claire Buerger — who went to state as an individual last season — won the district title on the floor with a 9.25 and Nakada added a 9.075, and all five Trojans scored more than 8.35. And they continued to perform well by finishing strong on the vault, with Grace Dwyer finishing third overall with a 9.0 and qualifying for state as an individual and no Trojans scoring below 8.0.
“The girls rocked the house on the floor,” McCoppin said. “Then we got even better on the vault. We ended the day very strong. By the time we were done, the end result was that we scored just about what we normally do. We topped 139, and Centerville hasn’t scored 139 all season, so we were feeling pretty good at that point.”
Nakada finished the day second overall in the all-around competition with 35.35 and Buerger scored 35.05, with both qualifying for the individual state competition Saturday in the all-around. Baker will join them on the beam and Dwyer will join them on the vault — but the entire team will compete on Friday.
“I’m pretty excited for the girls,” McCoppin said. “The assumption was that we would qualify for state as a team, but until it happens you don’t want to take anything for granted. For the girls, it was like a 20-pound weight lifted off their shoulders.”
And with the Trojans’ primary goal this season of reaching state as a team already reached, the mood heading into this weekend’s competition is markedly less stressed.
“In practice, we didn’t change anything. We’re doing the same thing we’ve done all year,” McCoppin said. “This is kind of like icing on the cake. We’re just going to go out, do our routines and see where the scores fall. We have no number goal in mind. We’re kind of playing it by ear.
“No matter how we do, we’re one of the top 12 teams in the entire state. Anywhere higher than that we finish is just an added bonus.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.