With very little fanfare, this year’s gymnastics team has not only accumulated the best record of any Spartan team so far this year – the girls are undefeated in six meets – but is also, as coach Cindy Guy says flatly, “the best team I’ve ever had here.”
And Guy – the Spartan coach for 22 years – is likely to be saying the same thing next year, as team co-captain Stephanie Hylen is the only senior. The others are a junior, a sophomore, and remarkably – for a team that has already twice broken the school record for total points – three freshmen.
Guy recalls that after the first intra-squad meet “I said, ‘Oh my God, my gymnastics team is really good,’ but I wasn’t sure that they would turn out to be as good as they are.
“So we’ve reassessed our team goals. We hope to hit 178-179 (their current best mark is 175.35) by regionals. That means going up by four tenths in every event. We want to upgrade our dismounts, tumbling and vaults.
“It’s exciting to know that there’s still more work to do, that we can score even higher.”
Hylen, consistently the team’s top gymnast last year, often finds herself finishing behind some of her younger teammates, even though she’s scoring higher than she did last year.
And it doesn’t bother her a bit.
“I feel like I fit in better this year,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better my senior year.
“This is the most exciting year for me because we have such a great team feeling. I feel privileged to be the captain of this team.”
She’s already looking ahead. “I know we’ll win Metro, but I’m already nervous for regionals. There are several other teams that have scores around where we are and I really want us to go to State as a team.”
That would be a first, as Guy has never taken a complete team to State.
To a certain extent, it depends on the number of allotments that District 2 receives. The other two BHS teams that Guy ranks near this year’s group, 1986 and 1992, competed in a smaller district which included perennial power Sehome and had only one allotment.
“We probably would have finished third or fourth those years if we could have gone,” she observes. “And we didn’t have this depth.”
One of the primary reasons for the depth Guy refers to is the result of a coaching change at Trek Gymnastics Academy in Poulsbo. The previous coach didn’t want club members also competing in high school gymnastics, but the new coach actively encourages it.
As a result, junior Emily Roche, sophomore Dana Cuykendall and freshman Brooke Nall practice and compete with the rest of the team in addition to many more hours and additional meets with the club team. Coupled with freshmen Brittany Belt and Carrie Kirkpatrick, they provide a wealth of talent and competitive experience.
Roche, who competed in all-around (doing all four gymnastics events – vault, bars, beam and floor exercise) at State for the Spartans as a freshman, is back after skipping high school competition last year.
A gymnast since the age of five, she competes year-round.
“There’s not much time for anything else,” she observes, especially during the high school season.
“But it’s cool having fun with a bunch of good people,” she adds. “It would be really cool if we go to State as a team.”
Cuykendall began her gymnastics career at the age of four, joining BI Gymnastics when she was nine and moving on to Trek two years later. A lifelong island resident, she’s in her first year as a Spartan gymnast.
“High school is a lot of fun,” she says. “It’s a little more relaxed, and there’s a lot more team spirit.”
Nall has made rapid progress since beginning as a fourth grader.
“I was an active child, I guess,” she says. “My mom said that since I was so active, I should put my energy somewhere.”
She found that “somewhere” with the help of her grandmother.
“She said I should try gymnastics. So I tried it and I liked it,” she explains.
Belt is new to Bainbridge this year after living in England and Connecticut. She began gymnastics as a four-year-old, then competed actively after that before she quitting last year due to a repetitive injury from which she’s recovered.
“There’s a humongous difference between high school and club,” she said. “High school is more fun, but sometimes I miss competitive gymnastics. You improve faster in club, but high school is more enjoyable because you’re not being yelled at.”
Kirkpatrick describes herself as a “late bloomer,” not taking up gymnastics until she was 10 though she played a number of other sports. But after viewing the gymnastics at the 1996 Olympics, “I wanted to be an Olympic gymnast,” she explains, though that ambition has since passed.
She’s also a member of the BI Gymnastics Club.
“On the high school team I’m around people my own age,” she said. “On the club team, I’m the oldest. I still love it, but the atmosphere is different.
“Also, the high school team is more laid-back. It’s nice to step away from the super-competitive atmosphere.”
The older members of the team are quite happy with playing lesser roles.
Co-captain Nicole Bemis has actually cut back to two events, the floor and beam.
“I like doing two events,” she said. “There’s less stress. And it’s fun to be captain of a team that’s so successful.”
Fellow senior Jacque Alonso, who began as a youngster and then left gymnastics for ballet and jazz dancing when she lived in Chicago, took up the sport again when she moved to the island as a sophomore. She did all-around last year, but prefers to concentrate on her two strongest events, floor and bars.
“I’m really excited that the freshmen are helping the team as much as they do,” she said.
A third senior, Darby Cahill, resumed competition as a sophomore after laying off the sport for several years.
“I look at how far I’ve come for the few years I’ve put in,” she says.
And junior Alison Kramer points out that “last year everybody needed to do everything. Now we can get better at what we do best.
“Everybody is so team-oriented. We all support each other.”
The team’s other members are sophomores Abby Kidd and Lizzy Kidd, and freshmen Beth Allen, Jessica Dunlap, Nissa Kahle, Sonia McBride and Kelsey Roe.
Lori Gilbreath is the assistant coach, while seniors Kelsey Horne and Pam LeGendre serve as team managers.
The team makes its final home appearance on Friday at 6:00 at Commodore.
“I hope we have a really big crowd,” says Guy. “It’s the tribute to our seniors, and I’d love to pack the gym.”