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Alexandria gets an opening win over Willmar

The Cardinals are led by three returning athletes with a lot of varsity experience as senior Ailynn Fettig, junior Amaya Hughes and sophomore Sara Eddy finished 1-2-3 in the all around.

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Members of the Alexandria gymnastics team watch from the side of the beam where they are cheering on their teammate during the varsity portion of the meet in a win over Willmar on Dec. 2, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria senior gymnast Ailynn Fettig was the final routine of the night during the Cardinals’ season-opening meet against Willmar on Thursday.

Willmar had just wrapped up its final event on the beam before Fettig’s floor performance was about to begin. Athletes from both teams gathered around the mat to cheer her on in what turned out to be a first-place finish after Fettig turned in the best overall score of the night with a 9.4 on the floor.

“This sport is very individualized,” Alexandria head coach Tayler Kaufman said of the support the athletes give each other in gymnastics. “Everyone knows what it’s like to be on their own in front of a large crowd, so just having that support and empathy for one another -- they remember their first times ever competing and going out there each time. It’s a nice safety net for everyone that they know they’re loved no matter what the score is.”

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Alexandria senior Ailynn Fettig shares a laugh with her teammates right before she went out and scored a 9.4 on her floor routine to win that event and secure her win in the all-around against Willmar on Dec. 2, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

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Fettig is one of four seniors for the Cardinals this winter with Loren Buggert, Sarah Kelly and Ellie Rauk joining her. That first-place finish on the floor was part of an overall win in the all-around (35.30) for Fettig as she helped the Cardinals to a team win over Willmar by a score of 135.55 to 128.575.

“We’re just coming into our season so there’s always room for improvement, but I feel like we came out with a positive mindset,” Fettig said. “We came out with confidence, and all together we performed really well tonight for the first meet.”

Alexandria was performing in its temporary new home located at the gymnasium that sits in the same building as the Douglas County Library. Next year, the Cardinals will perform in a new facility with an addition going up at Discovery Middle School.

There is limited space to work with in their current setting, so Kaufman was happy with how her athletes performed in getting a win against Willmar.

“It’s not our new building and so there were a lot of nerves and fears going into the season about their performance,” she said. “For us to hit a score that was higher than our first score from last year, it’s pretty exciting that we’re moving in the right direction.”

Alexandria won each of the four events. Sophomore Sara Eddy started things off with a win on the vault after scoring a 9.15. Fettig was first on the bars (8.6) in addition to her floor win, and junior Amaya Hughes tied for first on the beam with Willmar’s Kim Joneson after both scored an 8.45.

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“With our events right now, the really big thing we need to work on is cleaning up all our routines,” Fettig said. “The judges really like clean execution even compared to just throwing big skills. Just getting those skills more confident, more clean, getting more reps in on them is going to be one of the big drivers of our success this year.”

Hughes and Fettig are team captains, and Eddy is a sophomore, but she returns a lot of varsity experience as well. Junior Izzy Kent highlighted her night on varsity with a second-place finish on the bars against Willmar.

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Alexandria junior Izzy Kent takes second on the bars with her score of 8.2 in the Cardinals' win over Willmar on Dec. 2, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

There are eight total juniors and seniors, and then a group of 13 combined sophomores, freshmen and 8th-graders on the Alexandria roster.

“We have a lot of younger girls coming up, so I’m really going to rely on them to show some of those girls how to be motivated, how to be a leader, how to cheer for one another and be that support,” Kaufman said of Hughes, Fettig and Eddy. “Gymnastics has such a mental aspect, and having girls put their mental health first and cheer each other on is going to get them ahead.”

Fettig, Hughes (34.0) and Eddy (32.55) finished 1-2-3 in the all-around scores. Fettig said she is grateful to be back in the gym with her teammates again in a more normal setting after last year’s winter season featured a different feel due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Alexandria sophomore Sarah Eddy got a win on the vault against Willmar on Dec. 2, 2021 with a score of 9.15. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Fettig just missed out on an opportunity to compete at the state meet on the bars last winter. That has motivated her going into her final run with the Cardinals.

“It’s always been my goal to make it to state on something,” Fettig said. “Last year, I thought it was going to be bars, but it didn’t quite work out that way. That’s OK. I have that opportunity this year to still shoot for that goal.”

Kaufman said Fettig is capable of advancing out of Section 8AA in the all-around, as well.

As a team, the Cardinals have a goal of reaching a score of 140. They almost accomplished that this past March, with their section score of 139.025 being a big jump from the team score of 133.75 at the section meet in 2020.

“We were so close last season to making that goal,” Fettig said. “It’s really exciting this year because I know we have the potential on this team to finally make that goal.”

Kaufman came into the season wanting her athletes to focus on performing each of their skills as cleanly as possible. She sees room for improvement after Thursday’s opening meet, which has her excited about the growth the Cardinals could see the rest of the way.

“The biggest goal of the season was to keep everything clean, just because we don’t have the facility to practice our harder skills,” Kaufman said. “The first meet is kind of getting back into the routine of performing. Now that we have this first meet out of the way, I think it’s going to be achievable to reach that 140 because we know what to expect and can get past those first-meet jitters.”

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Alexandria junior Amaya Hughes completes a flip on the beam that helped her tie for first in that event with a score of 8.45 in the Cardinals' team win over Willmar on Dec. 2, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria 135.55, Willmar 128.575

ALEXANDRIA TOP-10 FINISHES - VAULT - Sara Eddy - first, 9.15; Ailynn Fettig - second, 9.0; Amaya Hughes - sixth, 8.5; Chloe Steele - seventh, 8.35; Ellie Rauk - eighth, 8.3

BARS - Ailynn Fettig - first, 8.6; Izzy Kent - second, 8.2; Addison Twa - third, 8.00; Amaya Hughes - fourth, 7.85; Sara Eddy - 9th, 6.9

BEAM - Amaya Hughes - tied-first, 8.45; Ailynn Fettig - second, 8.3; Sara Eddy - third, 8.00; Izzy Kent - fourth, 7.75; Loren Buggert - eighth, 7.25

FLOOR - Ailynn Fettig - first, 9.4; Amaya Hughes - second, 9.2; Sara Eddy - third, 8.5; Izzy Kent - fifth, 8.3; Chloe Steele - seventh, 7.9

ALL AROUND - Ailynn Fettig - first, 35.30; Amaya Hughes - second, 34.00; Sara Eddy - third, 32.550

Related Topics: GYMNASTICS
Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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