After winning its sixth consecutive SCC championship, Hand gymnastics captured its 15th state crown overall by repeating as Class M champion this season before finishing runner-up at the State Open to earn its first trip to the New England Championship in eight years, where it finished fifth in one of the most memorable postseasons in program history. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Smith
Hand Gymnastics Dominated in the Postseason
Published April 02, 2014. Last updated 01:19 p.m., April 02, 2014
In a history of many memorable campaigns for Hand gymnastics, this past one may rank as one of the best, if not the best.
After the Tigers cruised to a 17-1 regular-season mark, which included one meet where they set a new school record with 142.95 points, they scored a SCC Championship all-time-event-best 141.45 to win their sixth consecutive conference crown before again breaking the 142-tally barrier (142.275) to repeat as Class M state champions (15th state title overall). The postseason prowess continued at the State Open when Hand collected a runner-up finish with a 142.7 mark to reach its first New England Championship since 2006, as the Tigers came in fifth, again over 142 points (142.825) for the regional meet.
"There were many accomplishments, and we met all of our preseason goals," said Head Coach Kelly Smith, named CIAC Coaches' Association Coach of the Year and New Haven Register All-Area Coach of the Year. "All of the championship meets were really big, especially making it to the New England Championship for the first time since 2006, in addition to setting a new school team-score record of 142.95."
Hand reached those titles and milestones led by senior tri-captains in Kendall Jerzyk, Kendall Goodman, and Julie Keenan, each of whom set only the strongest examples of success with their performances and left their marks in the Tigers' gym.
"Jerzyk has been a two-year captain and four-year, all-around competitor. She leads by example and is incredibly hard-working. She's driven, yet a calm, competitor that consistently turned in stellar performances under pressure," said Smith. "Goodman has competed on all four events in the last four years, but contributed mostly on beam and floor. She has a positive attitude and works hard in the gym as one of our tri-captains. Julie has competed on all four events in the last four years, but especially excelled on vault during her time on the team. Julie keeps the spirits high in the gym with a contagious laugh while keeping everyone working hard."
The Tigers also had key senior leadership contributions from Stefani Taschner, Maria Iennaco, Ashlyn Thompson, Aimee Merkle Scotland, Sarah Klass, and Emma Mills.
"Even though only three seniors were captains, all of our seniors were leaders this year in the gym, working hard and mentoring the younger athletes. This senior class was integral to our success as a team this year and over the past few years," said Smith. "Stefani has many of the hardest skills being performed on our team right now and consistently scored above a 36 and sometimes a 37 in the all-around this year. Maria has increased her difficulty level the most out of any of the athletes I've had over four years, and it's a direct result of her work ethic in the gym. Ashlyn has competed consistently all four years on 3-4 events and especially on vault and floor. Aimee started gymnastics as a sophomore, and since joining the team she has learned many new skills and competed on vault and beam. Sarah has been a bright smiling face each day. Emma was new to Madison last year and new to our team this year as a senior. It felt like she was always a part of our team, she joined so seamlessly. She competed in beam and floor this year and helped created a fun atmosphere in the gym."
The Tigers also boasted a laundry list of all-conference, state, and American representatives. The All-American squad includes Taschner (for bars, beam, all-around), Jerzyk (vault, bars, beam, floor, all-around), junior Abby McGuirk (vault, bars, beam, floor, all-around), Iennaco (vault, beam), sophomore Erin Maxwell (beam), and freshman Lily Spencer (beam), plus Taschner was recognized as an Elite All-American on the floor and vault. Iennaco, Keenan, sophomore Genevieve Geller, and freshman Olivia Finke made the Academic All-American team. For state-level acknowledgement, Taschner, Jerzyk, Iennaco (also Academic All-State), and McGuirk were First Team All-State athletes, as Maxwell was Second Team.
With its six-peat as a SCC title-holder, Hand saw five all-league athletes with Taschner (SCC Championship Most Outstanding Athlete), Jerzyk, McGuirk, Iennaco, and Maxwell. The New Haven Register's All-Area Team also held Taschner (All-Area MVP), Jerzyk, McGuirk, Iennaco, and Maxwell. Additionally, Taschner, Jerzyk, and Iennaco were named to the Senior National Team and will represent the state at the Senior Showcase Invitational in Florida this May.
While the Tigers part ways with a decorated senior class, Smith is confident that the underclass will help Hand rise above to continue its tradition of excellence.
"This is the biggest senior class we've ever had graduate and includes girls that have been individual SCC champions, all-state, all-area, and have earned many other accolades," said Smith. "It will be difficult to replace some of the start values and levels of routines that are graduating, but we still have a lot of younger athletes with talent that will continue the success of our program. They are ready to work hard in the offseason to increase difficulty, and we have high hopes for our team again next season."