The rope whipped through the air so fast it was invisible.
It made a strong slicing sound, like Zorro’s sword; woosh, woosh, woosh.
It stopped with a “Thwack!” as it snapped on the side of Hannah Sprague’s head.
Sprague stopped jumping, and glanced up at her teammates to give them a “Can we try that again?” look.
The jump rope quickly cut through the air again, below Sprague’s feet, above Sprague’s head; woosh, woosh, woosh.
It was the last day of practice for the Bainbridge Island Rope Skipping Team before their departure this week to compete in the Gold Rush Classic U.S. National Jump Rope Championship.
Nineteen members of the Bainbridge team qualified to compete at Nationals during the regional tournament earlier this year. This year’s national championships will be held June 20-23 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif.
The team has been practicing four days a week since January, and Monday’s final practice was a low-key affair, with Bainbridge jumpers practicing for their speed competitions. They also tried to hone the new tricks they’d put into their freestyle routines and, as always, there was time spent on their turning techniques.
Coach Julie Ahrnes said the competition at Nationals will start with speed events.
“The first day is all about speed,” Ahrens said.
“We’re a very strong freestyle team,” she added. “We’ve really been trying to build ourselves to be a stronger speed team. So I’m hoping this year we are going to do better in speed than we have in the past.”
If the regionals are any indication, Bainbridge may do just that.
At the April tourney, Abigail Harrison and Serena Johnson were first in single rope speed in 30-second, 1-minute and 3-minute speed in their respective age categories. And in Double Dutch pairs speed, the four-person team of Jessica Fay, Anna Warga, Sarah Sharman and Harrison were first with their 2-minute speed score of 647 jumps.
Ahrens said it takes hours and hours of training to get good at speed.
“It’s pretty grueling,” she said.
Freestyle competitions start Friday.
Sprague admitted they felt a bit more prepared before Nationals last year. But she noted that they were using a simpler routine. That’s changed.
“Our routines are a lot more difficult this year. It gets your nerves a little more on edge, because there is a bigger possibility for making a mistake,” Sprague said. “But the reward is a lot bigger.”
“We have a bunch of new tricks we’ve never tried before,” Warga added.
That said, judges will be looking for a bit of creativity.
“The judges like to see something unique, something that they haven’t seen in the past,” the coach said.
Ahrnes said she’s been impressed with what she’s seen so far.
“I’ve been coaching this off and on for 20 years. And this is the best girls Double Dutch routine I’ve ever seen. And if they nail it, they’ll win.
“But who knows. It’s a hard routine. It’s a really hard routine,” Ahrnes said.
The team will be taking skippers from the 12-and-under category and older to Nationals; including Katherine Bouma, Trinity Schou, Harper Naon, Marina Correa, Paige Bouma, Sophia DeBellis, Claire Dumouchel, Natalie Bennett, Anna Bjur, Matthew Midgett, Lizzy Sharman, Molly Harrison and Amanda Stevenson.
“It’s the first Nationals for our younger team,” Ahrnes said.
“Our little kids are phenomenal,” she added. “And it’s their first competition where there will be thousands of people watching, so it’s hard to say how they will react. If they do well, they should win in their age category.”
Still, the coach was hesitant to say how well the team will finish. The team includes world champions and jumpers who have won before at Nationals.
“It’s hard. They raise their own bar. Every year, everyone keeps asking me, ‘How are they going to do this year?’ I don’t know,’” she laughed.