The Bainbridge Spartans have already seen quite a few twists and turns this year, even though gymnastics has just gotten under way.
There are new routines, new requirements and a shortened start to the season — plus plenty of new freshmen on the Spartan squad.
The team is off to a fast start, with the calendar as a big factor.
In past seasons, Bainbridge has had 20 days to practice before its season opener. This year, the team has had the minimal practice span of 15 days.
“We’re a week shorter than we normally are, so we’ve really had to hustle,” said Spartan Coach Cindy Guy, who guides the Spartan gymnasts with the help of Coach Bryan Garoutte.
Because of this year’s early start, with practices beginning two weeks before Thanksgiving, it’s meant some late changes leading up to the first meet against West Seattle and Chief Sealth.
During the regular season, up to 10 athletes can compete, although just five scores are counted.
“We’re kind of filling in the fifth and sixth persons on different events to fill out the varsity level,” Guy noted. “Obviously, we have a lot of newcomers — but a lot of talent. We just have to mold them and to get their routines organized.”
“They are really working hard. And they have been motivated to improve,” she added.
The team has six veterans coming back from last year’s varsity squad.
Top returners include juniors Sarah Rice and Miller Shor.
Dominique D’Onofrio, a senior, is team captain.
“She’s an all-around, and she competed on varsity for us last year,” Guy said.
Shor and Rice also do all four events; beam, bars, floor exercise and vault.
“They look really strong this year,” Guy said, but quickly added that rule changes in the beam event will make competition harder this year; the addition of acro (acrobatic) skills that require two elements with flight.
“They’ve added some changes on beam that’s going to make it very difficult if you are not a super great tumbler,” she said. “It’s been stressful.”
That said, the Spartans have been training to make sure their scores don’t get dinged by the new changes.
“To counteract it, we’re having all the kids — JV through varsity — every time they do a tumbling skill, they need to do it two in a row. In the old days, you could just do one cartwheel. But now, we’re forcing everybody to go cartwheel-cartwheel, or cartwheel-dive cartwheel, because that’s what they are aiming for,” Guy said.
Rice will be using a new routine on floor, while Miller will use the floor routine she used at state last year, but with some changes in skills.
D’Onofrio has a new beam routine and new floor routine, and Mila Lesh, also a senior and all-around competitor, will be using new routines in the beam and floor events this year.
“It’s kind of interesting to see how the new things we put together work,” Guy said.
The Spartans will look to Rice, Shor, Lesh and Juliana Hinkley, a junior, to be all-around competitors this year.
Others on the team are seniors Julia and Elise Cassella, Haley Green and Sara Turpen; juniors Sarah Collins, Charlotte Furner, Maddy Mikami and Emily Rogers; sophomores Madison Loaiza-Bortherton and Taylor Peterson; and freshmen Sydney Dalessi, Helen Fritchman, Maya Green, Wiila Jones Irwin, Evalynn Parman, Elizabeth Rolfes and Mako Rutherford.
Julia Cassella, a returning varsity member, is a bar specialist for the Spartans and also competes in the vault.
Her twin sister, Elise Cassella, has also come back to the squad after a year off.
“As soon as we get her routines kind of put together, she’s going to score well for us, too,” Guy said.
Work continues on polishing the routines of the youngest members of the team.
“They have the bare bones, but we don’t have all the fluffiness that goes with it,” Guy said.
The toughest regular season test for the Spartans will likely be Holy Names, and the Spartans will face the Cougars on Jan. 17 on the road and the following week, on Jan. 24, at home.
Bainbridge will also cast a wary eye at North Kitsap, after the Vikings handed the Spartans their first home loss since 2000 in last year’s matchup.
Bainbridge will also host the Metro Championships this year, the first time since 2011.
For now, there’s cautious optimism.
“We’d love to go undefeated and we would love to win Metro,” Guy said. “But because we lost Marielle (Summers) last year, and with the new changes, we really don’t know how we are going to stack up against anybody.”
D’Onofrio, the team captain, said the team will need to raise the bar this year to remain competitive.
“Holy Names is really good. North Kitsap blew us away last year,” she said. “We’ll have to keep pushing ourselves and hope for the best.”
D’Onofrio has new routines on beam and floor, and said she’s still adjusting.
“They sort of grow on you; it’s hard to let go of an old routine. But, I’ve always wanted to get a new one,” she said.
There have been several key areas that she has focused on, D’Onofrio said: “The rhythm; not going too fast. Not mixing it with the old routine.”
She’ll be using music from the movie “El Dorado” for floor this year, which is her favorite event, and her initial performances have come together well.
“Competing is always really fun. We’ve already had one meet this year, so I feel pretty good about it,” D’Onofrio said.
Beyond an overall goal of getting the team to state, the Spartans have set some personal goals as well.
Shor is hoping to score a 9 this year on beam.
“I haven’t done it yet in high school,” Shor said. “I’ve been close before. And I have a new series and everything, so — hopefully.”
Rice — who finished seventh at last year’s 3A championships in vault and bars — is working on an entirely different vault this year, a Kasamatsu, which requires a 1/4 on with a 3/4 twist off of the table in the opposite direction.
Rice said she’s still working to stay on her feet at the landing.
“It’s harder, and so I don’t quite have it yet. But I plan on having it by maybe the second meet,” Rice said.
“It just feels so different; it’s hard to get used to,” Rice said. “I didn’t even know what it looked like, I had to YouTube it.”
“I just have to keep practicing,” she said.
Her beam routine is also slightly different thanks to the double-flight change in the series requirement. Her routine includes a backhand swing roundoff, rather than the cartwheel roundoff from last year’s routine.
Rice said she hopes she can qualify for state on floor this year and have the Spartans get to Tacoma as a team.
Despite fewer practices, the team is gelling, Rice said.
“It’s been going well. We’ve done what we needed to do,” she said.