By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
CANTON – Brighton senior Courtney Casper packed an eventful final month into her only season of high school gymnastics.
An accomplished club competitor, Casper joined the Bulldogs’ team this winter – and Saturday at Plymouth High School added an MHSAA Division 1 title to league and Regional championships she’d won over the last few weeks.
Casper scored an all-around 37.975 to edge Rockford senior Nicole Coughlin by 75 hundredths of a point in the most dominant Division 1 Finals performance since Grand Ledge’s Meghan McWhorter also won all-around and three individual apparatuses in 2008.
Casper tied senior teammate Hannah Bracken to win vault (9.700), and also took first on uneven parallel bars (9.650) and floor exercise (9.775).
“It’s really exciting because it was my first year on high school, and I couldn’t have finished any better than I did,” Casper said. “It was a lot less pressure for me (than club), so it was kinda just more for fun.”
Casper tied for second, with Coughlin, at the prestigious Canton Invitational at the start of February. That meet frequently is an indicator of which gymnasts will contend for MHSAA titles a month later, and Casper managed her high standing despite falling twice that day.
She said she was most proud of her floor routine Saturday, and for good reason – her score tied for third-highest in Division 1 Finals history. Her vault score tied for 15th highest on the MHSAA Finals record book list for that event.
Coughlin, who finished fifth and third, respectively, over the previous two seasons, won balance beam with a 9.500. A day after leading Rockford to its third straight team championship, Coughlin capped her high school career with a personal-best all-around score of 37.900. The beam championship also was her second straight on that apparatus.
She and Casper finished seven tenths of a point better than the rest of the field.
“I was just really proud of our team still from (Friday), so we just tried to carry that same energy into today,” Coughlin said. “I just wanted to come in and hit all four routines, and I did, so I’m super proud of that.”
Port Huron sophomore Brianne Smith placed third, up from 12th her first season, and Grand Rapids Forest Hills United senior Christine Byam was fourth in Division 1 after taking sixth a year ago. Nicole’s twin Carly Coughlin finished fifth, and Grosse Pointe United senior Isabelle Nguyen came in sixth to go with her previous Division 1 finishes of fifth, second and second during her first three seasons of high school.
In Division 2, Farmington United junior Elisa Bills took the next step after missing out on the 2016 championship by only three tenths of a point.
Competing in part against a Farmington lineup filled with strong Division 2 teammates, Bills hadn’t finished first in an all-around competition this winter. But she got her first place when it counted most, scoring a 37.550, which tied for fifth-highest in Division 2 Finals history.
She won vault (9.575), beam (9.400) and floor (9.525). Her bars score tied for sixth and her floor score tied for 12th in Division 2 Finals history. She was the first Division 2 gymnast to win all-around and three apparatuses since Troy Athens’ Brooke Madzia in 2009.
“All the hard work paid off, throughout the whole year, just going hard and staying in the game throughout the whole day,” Bills said. “Even if there was one fall, or one bobble, you just had to keep positive throughout the whole day and go hard and give it your all.”
Bills’ all-around score would’ve placed third in Division 1 and cleared the field by 0.825 points. Howell senior Alyssa Walker (36.725) and Livonia Blue senior Jessica Weak (36.675) finished second and third all-around, respectively. Both of their scores were high enough to also make the MHSAA Finals record book for Division 2. Weak also repeated as bars champion with a score of 9.325, three tenths of a point higher than her winning score in 2016.
PHOTOS: (Top) Brighton’s Courtney Casper performs her floor routine during Saturday’s Finals at Plymouth High School. (Middle) Rockford’s Nicole Coughlin, on beam Saturday, finished second in Division 1. (Below) Farmington’s Elisa Bills also performs on floor on the way to winning the Division 2 title. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
Sophia Wagner ♦ Escanaba
Senior ♦ Gymnastics
In just her team’s second competition this season, Wagner set program records with a 9.8 on floor exercise and 37.380 all-around to finish first in both at the Escanaba Elks Invitational. The floor exercise record topped the previous Escanaba-best 9.7 scored by current senior teammate Sophie Lehto last season.
Escanaba’s gymnastics program has made major statewide strides over the last half-decade, and Wagner reached the Finals podium last season tying for fifth on Division 2 balance beam with a score of 9.025 while also tying for 22nd on vault. The week before, Wagner helped lead Escanaba to a sixth-place Regional finish against a field that included the last two Finals team champions. She also played tennis and was part of the No. 3 doubles runner-up as Escanaba shared the Upper Peninsula Division 1 team title this fall, and she finished second in pole vault and ran on the seventh-place 400-meter relay in the spring as Escanaba finished third at the UPD1 Girls Track & Field Finals.
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(Photos courtesy of Victory Video and Photography.)