By Josh Brown
HILLIARD — With a heavily-taped injured ankle obviously hindering her, Troy senior Minori Nakada still gave no outward signals any time she was forced to land on it.
No matter how hard she landed, there was no grimace, no wince. Only a giant smile every single time.
“My teammates cheering for me helped,” the Trojan senior said when asked how she did it. “They cheer for me every single time, no matter how I do.”
That kind of camaraderie and willingness to sacrifice for everyone else is exactly how the Troy gymnastics team got to the state tournament for the first time since 2000 in the first place — and it led the Trojans to their best ever finish as a team at the state level as they placed sixth with 137.775 points Friday at Hilliard Bradley High School.
“From the beginning of the season to the end, we couldn’t have asked for more out of these girls,” Troy coach Larry McCoppin said after Saturday’s individual competition. “This was the first time the school has had four individual competing at the individual meet, and the sixth-place finish was the highest the team has ever gotten. In 1999, Troy placed ninth and in 2000 Troy placed 10th.”
A trio of seniors — Claire Buerger, Grace Dwyer and Nakada — led the Trojans to the finish on Friday.
Buerger, in her second straight season qualifying for state, scored 34.675 in the all-around competition, scoring 8.950 on the vault, 8.650 on the beam, 8.600 on the floor and 8.475 on the bars. And on Saturday, she improved on that performance with a 34.975 in the all-around — good enough for 20th place overall — scoring 8.825 on the floor, 8.80 on the vault, 8.775 on the beam and 8.550 on the bars.
But for her, the experience was much more rewarding this season to come as a full team.
“It was just so much more fun having my teammates here with me,” Buerger said. “It was a million times more fun this year. It helped (having qualified last season) because I knew what I was coming into, how the equipment would feel.
“At district, when they were calling out the team places, I just kept thinking ‘they’re going to call us soon, right? They’ve got to call us soon.’ When I realized we were all going to state, it was just awesome.”
Dwyer scored 34.550 in the all-around competition on Friday, with a 9.025 on the vault, 8.650 on the beam, 8.575 on the floor and 8.300 on the bars. And on Saturday, she posted the Trojans’ best single event score, landing a 9.10 on the vault — tied for 13th overall in the event.
“It almost doesn’t feel real,” Dwyer said after Saturday’s vault. “I feel really lucky. This was the best experience ever, and I’ll never forget it.
“During the team competition, I care more about how the other people are doing. I almost want everyone else to do better than me, but I still want my score to help the team out. I knew I had to step it up and be a leader for the other kids this year. It feels pretty friggin’ amazing.”
“Grace was one place away at the district meet from qualifying for the all-around competition, too,” McCoppin said. “We had three of the top seven all-around girls in our district. That tells you something about this team.”
On Friday, Nakada scored 8.825 on the bars, 8.650 on the vault, 8.550 on the beam and 8.225 on the floor for an all-around score on 34.250. And on Saturday, Nakada scored 8.60 on the vault, 8.40 on the beam, 8.250 on the bars and 8.025 on the floor for an all-around of 33.275 — 30th place overall.
“(Her ankle) really affected her a lot yesterday,” McCoppin said. “She’s a pretty tough kid, though. It’s her nature to work through things. She’s not going to let the team down. Before this weekend, only one kid had beat her this year, and that happened one time. Yesterday, on just about every event, we asked her if she wanted to take this out or take that out — and every time, her answer was no.”
“I just really wanted to go to state as a team so bad,” Nakada said. “I wanted to help them and do all the events.”
Freshman Elizabeth Deal scored 33.675 in Friday’s all-around, scoring 8.800 on the vault, 8.500 on both the floor and beam and a 7.875 on the bars.
Fellow freshman Abby Baker scored an 8.150 on the vault, an 8.125 on the floor and 7.600 on the bars on Friday, and then on Saturday she scored an 8.375 on the beam.
“It was pretty exciting,” Baker said. “When our names were getting called at district, Claire looked at me and said ‘you’re going to state.’ Everyone cheered, and it was awesome.
“There was so many more people in the stands here. It was a cool experience. When we all went out before yesterday’s team competition and everyone cheered, it was like, all our hard work had paid off. Every time we’d hit a routine and everyone would go crazy, it was really exciting.”
Also on Friday, Lanie Hagan added an 8.975 on the beam, Miranda Silcott scored an 8.200 on the vault and 5.700 on the bars, Kayla Coate added an 8.700 on the beam and Sayaka Nakada an 8.175 on the floor.
“Yesterday, we started out with a few problems on the floor. We didn’t get the scores we normally get, started out about two points behind our normal,” McCoppin said. “Then the kids did what they always do — they stepped it up. In every event, they got better and better. The vault, the bars and then the beam — that might have been our best beam all year.
“The kids just did what they did all year. We needed kids that we don’t normally count on to hit to hit — and they did. We couldn’t have asked for more out of them.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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