The Spartans give a group wave to the crowd at this year’s opening meet. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

The Spartans give a group wave to the crowd at this year’s opening meet. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

2019 Spartan Winter Sports Preview | Spartans leap into season with new coach on board

The Bainbridge Spartans girls gymnastics team is off to a running start this year — and we’re not just talking about the vault.

In just their first two homes meets this season, the Spartans have earned wins against Garfield, Franklin, Lincoln, Nathan Hale, and most importantly, Ballard, a perennial top finisher at State.

First-year Head Coach Katie Rochon is helming a squad with a 19 on the roster; five seniors, six juniors — and six freshmen.

Though Bainbridge lost one of its standouts to graduation (SiQi Talley, who advanced to State last year), the Spartans’ three other State contenders are back: seniors Mariko Ronan and Kareese Pippinger, and junior Katharine Cooper.

Seniors on the team also include Keagan Daniels, Catharine Fleming, Nicole Houmes, and Nikolina Klinkenberg.

Juniors on the team are Kaitlyn Alexander, Katharine Cooper, Bianca Daniels, Grace Dunning, Sydney Johnson, Eliza Montgomery and Josephine Welty.

New to the Spartan squad: freshmen Natalie Billies, Juanita Bittman, Avery Gray, Elizabeth Olliffe, Sydney Oswald, and Elizabeth Pickle.

Also new, of course, is the coach.

Rochon takes over the team following last year’s retirement of legendary BHS coach Cindy Guy, who led the team from 1979 to 2019 — a span of 40 years.

Guy is a tough act to follow, for sure, having coached 12 Spartan teams to place at state, including one state championship, as well as a dozen league championships and three district championships.

Rochon, a girls gymnastics coach for the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District, was recruited for the coach’s job by longtime Spartan JV JV Coach Bryan Garoutte. Rochon has also been a volunteer gymnastics coach at North Kitsap for Coach Kris Goodfellow’s gymnastics team.

Rochon grew up in gymnastics and competed for North Kitsap, and hopes to share her love of the sport with her new team.

“I just really liked it when I was a kid.

“I like what it teaches you,” she said. “It kind of sets you up for life; it teaches you adversity, and how to deal with things, all of that.”

Though it’s a sport based on individual performance, working together as a team is essential.

Rochon said that’s an important component of her coaching philosophy.

“I want to be supportive,” Rochon said. “I kind of remember what it was like, and the stress of school, and feeling like you let your teammates down. So it’s not all about winning for me.”

This year’s team boasts a large number of freshman, but most aren’t new to gymnastics and have competed at the club level, the coach said.

“I think it’s a really good group of kids. They are really supportive of each other, I think they are really talented. I think they can go pretty far,” Rochon said.

“Then we have about five kids who have never done gymnastics before, but just want to try it out,” she added.

The Spartans are also strong in the senior ranks.

This year’s team captains are Keagan Daniels and Ronan, as voted by their teammates at the end of last season.

It was a good pair of picks, Rochon said.

“They are definitely the two I would have picked if it were my choice,” she said.

“They’re really supportive, from JV up to varsity. It’s not about being the best for them; they are all about supporting their teammates.”

This year’s schedule, of course, features a few noteworthy challenges.

Right now, the Spartans are on a holiday break from competing and won’t return to competition until Jan. 10, against Holy Names Academy on the road.

Another big date is Jan. 31, when Bainbridge will be hosted by Ballard.

Rochon’s not fixated on future meets, though.

“My main focus is League, Districts and peeking at the right time,” she said.

“I would love to qualify to districts as a team and then get a couple girls into finals at State,” Rochon said.

The coach said she liked what she saw at the Spartans’ first home meet.

“For the first meet I actually think it was pretty good. We didn’t try to push them that hard, because we just wanted them to compete and feel successful with that,” she explained.

The Spartans will be competitive on the floor exercise this season — no surprise there — but Rochon is hopeful Bainbridge will also stand out on beam.

“Beam, if we can stay on (it’s always about staying on, on beam), I think we’ll probably be pretty good,” she said.

Bainbridge returns to action Jan. 10 against HNA, Ingraham and West Seattle, and the next home meet (against Chief Sealth, HNA and Nathan Hale) is set for Jan. 17.

New Spartan Coach Katie Rochon will be assisted by longtime JV Coach Bryan Garoutte. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

New Spartan Coach Katie Rochon will be assisted by longtime JV Coach Bryan Garoutte. (Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review)

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