Escanaba Vaulting Into Regional off Program-Record Team Score

By John Vrancic
Special for

March 4, 2022

ESCANABA — The Escanaba gymnasts are enjoying a record-breaking season as they head into MHSAA Tournament competition.

The team has turned in five school scoring records, with its most recent at Negaunee on Feb. 21 in earning the Great Northern Conference title with 135.05 points.

They’re looking forward to the Regional meet Saturday at Rockford.

“Before the season I couldn’t even imagine getting scores that high,” said sophomore Sophia Wagner, who won vault with a perfect 9.4 score Dec. 7 in a dual meet at Negaunee. “Our team scores have been above 120 points all year. We all push each other to get better. I think qualifying for the Regionals as a team was our biggest highlight. Getting that done early gave us more time to work on new skills. This has been an exciting season.”

All this has taken place during a year in which Escanaba gymnastics is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

“The girls are driving each other to get better in every practice,” said coach Theresa Pascoe. “When you can practice every day on a spring floor (at Triple A Gymnastics), it makes you want to get better. What’s making our team so much stronger is having newer equipment. You can only go so far on older equipment.

“It seems like the girls want to practice all the time. One time I gave them a day off and they all showed up. They want to do all the things the girls do downstate. If the girls want to do more, that’s my motivation to be here.”

They achieved their previous best score while winning their own invitational Feb. 5 with 134.1 points.

Escanaba gymnastics“That’s a great feeling,” said senior Lizzy Sliva, whose personal-best score in vault is 9.3. “It’s a lot of fun being on this team. We were able to qualify for the Team Regionals within our first four meets which is important because there’s a lot of stress at first. Once we did that, I was able to focus on getting my routines cleaner and adding difficulty. I want to keep challenging myself in all four events.”

In their previous outing, the Eskymos were runners-up at the Vassar Invitational on Feb. 19.

On Jan. 29, they placed sixth among 10 teams in the Antigo, Wis., Invitational, which is among the oldest meets in the region.

“That was a big accomplishment,” said Sliva. “Valders (Wis.) Invitational is similar to Antigo. Valders and Coldwater (Invitationals) are fun meets. The competition downstate is just as good as in Wisconsin. It’s a lot of fun going down there and competing on a spring floor.

Senior Caitlyn Davenport had similar thoughts.

“This season has really been exciting,” she said. “I’m proud to be part of this team. This has definitely been our best season. Everybody has come together and been helping each other. Qualifying for the Team Regional has taken a lot of the pressure off. It feels like we’ve been making a lot of progress. I’ve been at a lot of open gyms and done weight training during the offseason. I think we’re pretty close with the teams in Wisconsin, and going downstate has definitely gotten us more experience.”

Escanaba’s score at the GNC meet was nearly eight points better than last year’s highest (127.1).

“This has been a great year,” said sophomore Bridget Bichler. “We have a real strong team. We’ve made a real big jump from last year. When we broke 130, it was real exciting. It was a great confidence builder, and to be able to get high scores downstate is real encouraging. We got a compliment from one judge in Coldwater who told us how impressed he was with our team. It’s a great feeling.”

The gymnasts also gained experience from other venues, according to Pascoe.

“Five of our girls have competed in age group programs in USA Gymnastics,” she said. “Several are doing kips on beam, which is something that doesn’t happen very often. For so many years we had been near the bottom in Wisconsin meets. Now we’re holding our own. We have a very small team in numbers (eight), but most of the girls have been in gymnastics nearly all their lives. We have a lot of experience.”

Freshman Sophie Lehto said she has noticed a major change from the younger levels.

“This has been a great learning experience,” she said. “We’ve been working on a lot more skills and more difficult skills. There’s a lot more development, and the competition is very different. It was a significant step.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Escanaba celebrates its Great Northern Conference team gymnastics championship last month. (Middle) Caitlyn Davenport competes on balance beam during an early February meet with Negaunee. (Top photo courtesy of Escanaba gymnastics, middle courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.)

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