The only two teams that defeated Hand gymnastics during the regular season were Haddam-Killingworth/Hale-Ray/Coginchaug and Fairfield Ludlowe. However, when the stage shifted to the Class M State Championship, the Tigers avenged those blemishes and narrowly outlasted both squads to retain their state supremacy.
The Tigers scored 135.875 points at the eight-team meet at Pomperaug on Feb. 27, edging out runner-up HK/Hale-Ray/Coginchaug (134.575) and the third-place Falcons of Ludlowe (134.025) to seal a four-peat in Class M and secure the program’s 17th state championship overall.
“The past week in practice, everyone worked really hard to perfect everything we’ve done this season. We knew going in that it was going to be a very close meet between all teams,” said senior co-captain Becca Anderson. “Our main goal was to go out there and hit all four events and be able to say that we did everything we could’ve. Everyone on the team really stepped up to the challenge to be able to use the little extra pressure that this meet has to make us perform well.”
In terms of how the Tigers finished as a group for each event, Hand won the beam with a collective score of 34.85, finished third on the floor (35.0) and vault (33.875), and were fourth for the bars (32.15).
“We are so proud of winning our fourth-consecutive state title. Each person on the team stepped up and really worked hard to give their best performance,” said Erin Maxwell, also a senior captain who was named the SCC’s Gymnast of the Year. “It was a really close meet and I couldn’t be more proud of how my team performed together.”
For the vault, sophomore Erin Naclerio scored an 8.9, freshman Mary Huminski tallied an 8.45, Maxwell had an 8.375, and senior Genevieve Geller earned an 8.15 from the judges.
Moving to the bars, Naclerio posted a mark of 8.5, freshman Grace Rogers had an 8.05, Maxwell contributed a 7.9, and junior Olivia Finke netted a 7.7.
“It was an amazing meet. All of the teams were ranked close,and we knew it would be exciting. We snuck into that No. 1 seed in the last week of the regular season, but had lost to the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the regular season. We knew it would be a battle and that we would need to be nearly perfect—and we were,” said Head Coach Kelly Smith, the SCC’s Coach of the Year. “We didn’t count a single routine that included a fall. Even before we knew the results, the girls were happy because we had a really good day. We knew we needed to hit under pressure and we prepped all week for that.”
On the beam, Naclerio scored a 9.0 and joining her were junior Noelle Bergere (8.7), Anderson (8.65), and Geller (8.5).
Taking it to the floor exercise, Naclerio recorded a score of 8.9. Following her were Huminski with an 8.825, plus freshman Schylar Saliba (8.65) and Bergere (8.625).
For the all-around scorers, the Tigers were led by Naclerio (35.3), Maxwell (32.5), and Rogers (32.425).
“At the end of the day, we won because we hit, we were clean, and we were consistent—a true team effort,” said Smith. “There’s no better feeling as a coach then watching the team hear the announcement that they’ve won in such a close competition. There were tears of happiness and we’re just so proud of their hard work and their teamwork.”
Hand now prepares for the State Open on Saturday, March 5 at New Milford, where it will compete against three other squads in Class S champion Woodstock Academy, Class L winner Greenwich, and the HK/Hale-Ray/Coginchaug co-op. The Tigers will be trying for a repeat trip to the New England regionals, while they reflect on how they kept their trophy case stacked by claiming another state championship.
“I also know that this meet was really amazing for all the seniors and to be able to leave on this high note of having such a great meet, great team, and leaving with four state championships. I’m so proud of all the girls on the team because they were all amazing,” said Anderson. “We will go into the State Open with the same mindset with doing our absolute best and leaving there knowing we did everything we could.”
From the Sidelines
The Tigers finished 18-2 for the regular season in 2015-’16.
This is Kelly Smith’s 10th season as head coach of the Tigers and she is assisted by Jessica Hoover.
Completing the eight-squad field for the Class M State Championship were Wethersfield (scoring a 133.35), Darien (133.075), Wilton (130.975), New Milford (130.95), and Mercy (124.6).
Advancing to the State Open on Saturday, March 5 at New Milford for Hand are Erin Naclerio (for the all-around); Erin Maxwell (vault, beam, and floor); Noelle Bergere (beam and floor); plus Becca Anderson (beam).