State Class A gymnastics: Bowden, Wendel are state champs
Alexandria's Briquelle Bowden and Hannah Wendel knew the Class A state gymnastics meet wasn't the time to hold anything back.
This was a chance to prove themselves against the state's best. For Bowden, the lone senior on the Alexandria team, this was her career. That's why both went out and performed like they had nothing to lose on their way to capturing a couple state titles at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion this past Saturday.
Bowden earned her individual title on the beam and took second in the all-around. Wendel pulled out something special on the vault to win the title with a new school-record score of 9.775. Freshman Tahlia Bowden also competed, getting a personal-best on the vault and taking 27th in the all-around with a score of 34.8.
"It's a huge bump for the program," head coach Becca Cederberg said. "All three of those girls coach our younger level kids. The thrill that all those little girls have asking them about the big state meet, finding out about how it felt, you can just see the younger ones wanting that...I knew they were absolutely capable of this. It's just fun to see them finally hit it at a meet like that."
Briquelle exuded confidence from the very beginning and it carried over into the entire day. She set the tone in her first event by winning on the beam with a new personal record score of 9.6. That was a surprise to Bowden herself, who admitted that beam hasn't been the strongest event throughout her career.
She never let up after that. Bowden's all-around score of 37.95 is a new school record and was just .625 points off first-place finisher Sela Fadness of Austin. Bowden took second on the bars with a 9.45 and 12th on the floor (9.35). She didn't qualify individually on the vault but still finished with the fourth best score at 9.5375 to help toward her all-around score.
"It was the last meet of my career and pretty much the perfect ending to my career," Bowden said. "I couldn't have asked for a better meet and better teammates to have spent it with. My mindset going in was definitely to have confidence and have fun the whole time. I wasn't going to let anything affect me."
Wendel went into her first state meet knowing she had a couple more seasons to fall back on if things didn't go as planned. That helped ease some of the pressure as she contemplated performing a vault that she had never used in a competition before.
Wendel had worked on the handspring front tuck for almost two years but never felt comfortable enough to try it in a meet. It required her to do a hand spring onto the vault and perform a front flip out of it, essentially flipping 1.5 times, before sticking the landing.
"Honestly, in warm-ups I was extremely nervous," Wendel said. "I didn't know whether or not I was brave enough to throw it, but after I threw the first one, I was like, 'Well, that wasn't so bad. I might as well try it again.' I did a couple more and decided that was definitely the vault for me."
Wendel knew it was the only choice she had if she wanted a chance at a state title.
"The vault that I had been doing before didn't have the difficulty to be up there because there are so many girls doing that vault very well," she said. "So I figured if I had a chance to compete for the state title, I needed a higher-degree of difficulty vault."
Wendel put any nerves behind her and completely nailed her first routine. The four judges awarded her scores of 9.9, 9.85 and two 9.7s. That drew a huge ovation from the crowd.
"It was really cool," Wendel said. "I actually didn't see my score right away when it popped up. My coaches told me afterwards that I had actually gotten a 9.9 from one of the judges. I've never come close to that before."
Tahlia admitted that Wendel's performance on the vault helped her to bounce back after falling on both the beam and the floor earlier in the day. The freshman put that behind her to stick a personal best score of 9.45 on the vault.
"I think Hannah made us super excited to do vault," Tahlia said. "That just really helped with my vault and the score that I got."
It was an exciting day for a program that only a couple years ago was trying to pull itself out of the bottom of the Central Lakes Conference. Briquelle Bowden helped this team turn things around when she and Tahlia moved to Alexandria from Paynesville three years ago. She will leave with an all-around school record and a state title that indicate she is one of the best gymnasts in program history.
"Part of it for me is about leaving a legacy," Briquelle said. "I not only get to be a role model for [younger gymnasts], but I get to coach them and help them get those skills so they can maybe compete at the state meet at some point."
Wendel and Tahlia will both be back to lead this program again next season. It's a group that has a lot to build on after bursting onto the Class A stage this past weekend.
CLASS A STATE MEET
ALEXANDRIA - Briquelle Bowden - All-Around - second place, 37.95; Beam - first place, 9.6; Bars - second place, 9.45; Vault - 9.5375; Floor - 12th place, 9.35
Hannah Wendel - Vault - first place, 9.775
Tahlia Bowden - All-Around - 27th, 34.80; Beam - 9.025; Vault - 9.45; Bars - 8.175; Floor - 8.250