A resurgence in Alex gymnasticsAn influx of talented gymnasts into Alexandria over the last few years has helped turn around a once struggling Cardinals program.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Cardinals gymnastics team was struggling to even come close in competitions when Alexandria head coach Becca Cederberg first joined this program as an assistant five years ago.
Alexandria labored through a 0-16 record in the Central Lakes Conference from 2008-2010. Now in her third year as the team’s head coach, those struggles seemed like a distant memory as she led the fifth-ranked Cardinals into a highly anticipated match-up against defending Class A state champion Melrose on Tuesday night.
“To be able to come from something like that to being ranked number five in the state is pretty exciting,” Cederberg said. “A lot of it comes down to we’ve gotten some girls who are really talented, and they’ve brought the whole level of the program up where girls are excited. They want to be as good and they want to practice as hard. It’s fun to see that growth within the whole program.”
The Cardinals came up short by a score of 147.6-139.825 in a match-up with the top-ranked Dutchmen despite setting a couple more school records. Senior Briquelle Bowden had to put a disappointing performance on the beam behind her before finishing things off on the floor. She did that and then some, finishing with a record score of 9.7 to take first in the event.
Eclipsing school records has become the norm for this team. The Cardinals have set new highs in the overall team score and on the vault this season. They added to that on Tuesday as Bowden’s strong performance on the floor led them to a school record team score of 36.825.
Sophomore Hannah Wendel had the best overall performance of her career. She had been shooting for a score of 37 or better and accomplished that personal best by taking third in the all-around with a 37.075. Wendel took second on the beam (9.55), third on the floor (9.475), third on the vault (9.2) and fourth on the bars (8.85).
“I’m very excited,” she said. “It’s been a goal of mine for a couple of years and to finally break the 37s is awesome.”
The program’s turn around started with the additions of athletes like Wendel and the Bowden sisters, Briquelle and Tahlia. The Bowdens moved to Alexandria with their family from Paynesville three years ago. Last season, Wendel joined the mix. Her family moved from Valley City, North Dakota to Brandon five years ago before coming to Alexandria last year.
All three gymnasts had already spent a lifetime working on their craft. Tahlia, now a freshman, started in gymnastics at 3-years-old. Briquelle and Wendel were each 5-years-old when they got their start.
Their experience immediately provided this team with a boost. At a time when moving into a new community can be difficult for students, gymnastics proved to be the soft landing that made for an easy transition.
“Maybe two weeks,” Briquelle said of how long it took to get comfortable in their new surroundings. “This couldn’t have been a better situation. We’ve really created a family here, and we’re encouraging the younger ones to keep it going when we leave.”
That’s where they might be leaving their biggest mark on the program as a whole. Young girls lined the stairs in a far corner of the Lakes Area Gymnastics building and enthusiastically cheered on the varsity girls as they went through their routine on the beam on Tuesday night. In a sport where it’s so important to get kids involved at a young age, that enthusiasm created by a strong high school program will be essential in sustaining any kind of success.
“It’s amazing to see how the talent and potential of just a few kids can really raise the level of all the rest of the team,” Cederberg said. “Not only the team, but even our developmental program. All of those girls help coach our younger girls as well. They bring a lot to the community, not just to the high school program.”
The effects of that could start to be felt next year as the Cardinals try to replace Briquelle after they lose her to graduation this spring. Before she leaves, she wants to accomplish one more important goal alongside her sister. Tahlia and Briquelle both earned their way to the state meet in 2012 and have their sights set on getting back there in a couple of weeks.
“That would be so great,” Tahlia said. “I want it so bad. Last year was awesome being with her at the state tournament.”
“That opportunity is what we’ve been working toward all year,” Briquelle added. “And to have Hannah join us and possibly our whole team.”
Getting the whole Alexandria team to the state meet would be the pinnacle for a group that has come so far in the last few years. Sophomores Bria Schueler and Jana Roste and junior Rachel Sjostrand competed alongside them on varsity as the Cardinals tried to pull the upset over Melrose on Tuesday. They will need the best performances of the season out of almost everybody to have a chance of beating the Dutchmen at the section meet in Willmar on February 16.
“I just think we have to hit four-for-four on every event,” Wendel said. “We have to go out there and hit our best. Just go in there as a team and whatever happens, happens.”
The fact that it is even a possibility would have seemed unrealistic not long ago. There is a different attitude within the program now that has led to heightened expectations. The Cardinals hope those winning ways can become the new norm.
“It’s exciting,” Cederberg said. “It’s a big deal. The girls are very proud of their accomplishments. It’s funny the type of girls we have because even with that being said, they want more. They have a lot of high expectations themselves and hopefully we can [realize] some of those as we go to the section meet.”
Melrose 147.6, Alexandria 139.825
VAULT – Wendel – third place, 9.2; T. Bowden – sixth place, 8.85; B. Bowden – eighth place; Sjostrand – ninth place, 8.45; Schueler – 10th place, 8.2
BARS – B. Bowden – third place, 8.95; Wendel – fourth place, 8.85; T. Bowden – sixth place, 8.4; Schueler – seventh place, 8.2; Roste – ninth place, 7.8
BEAM – Wendel – second place, 9.55; T. Bowden – sixth place, 8.5; B. Bowden – seventh place, 8.5; Schueler – ninth place, 7.3; Roste – 10th place, 6.75
FLOOR – B. Bowden – first place, 9.7; Wendel – third place, 9.475; T. Bowden – fourth place, 9.45; Schueler – ninth place, 8.2; Roste – 10th place, 7.95
ALL AROUND – Wendel – third place, 37.075; B. Bowden – sixth place, 35.4; T. Bowden – seventh place, 35.2; Schueler – ninth place, 31.9