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The Hand gymnastics squad scored 137.3 points to earn its fifth straight Class M state crown on Feb. 25 at Pomperaug High School. This marks the first time the Tigers have won five state titles in a row and they’ve now prevailed at states 18 times in the program’s history. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Smith )
Lily Spencer is all smiles following a job well done, while Head Coach Kelly Smith looks on, during a home meet for the Hand gymnastics team this year. Last week, Spencer posted an all-around score of 34.725 to help the Tigers win their fifth consecutive Class M state title. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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As was the case at the recent SCC Championship, the Hand gymnastics team had to stave off some stiff competition in a close meet at last week’s Class M State Championship. Once again, however, the last page of the script read the same way with the Tigers defending another title.
Hand came into states as the four-time defending Class M champion and the No. 1 seed for the meet, which took place at Pomperaug High School in Southbury on Feb. 25. The Tigers posted a total of 137.3 points to capture their fifth straight Class M crown by outperforming runner-up Darien (134.125 points) and third-place finisher New Milford (132.375). This marks the most consecutive State Championship victories for the Tigers, who had previously won four state titles in a row on three different occasions. Hand has now won 18 state championships overall.
“Winning states was such a relief. We wanted this so bad, especially since it’s our fifth title in a row. We definitely felt the pressure from the other teams, knowing we had a target on our back, but we tried to not let it bother us, so we just focused on ourselves and our performance,” said junior Erin Naclerio, who took first place in three of the four events on the day. “I had my best vault of the season, a very solid beam routine, and then on the floor, I just had so much fun and nailed my tumbling passes. Overall, I think we did what we needed to do and more and also proved we deserved the state title.”
Wilton (131.9), Mercy (131.375), South Windsor (127.625), Wethersfield (124.7), and Conard (122.975) rounded out the eight-team field at the Class M State Championship. The Tigers claimed first place on three of the four events by winning the vault (35.2), beam (34.875), and floor (35.25) competitions to go with a second-place showing on bars (31.975), only placing behind Mercy (32.25). For the event’s individual champions, Naclerio took the triple crown by earning the top spots for vault (9.35), beam (9.425) and floor (9.25).
Senior Olivia Finke believes that the bonds formed between the Tigers this year played a major role in them continuing their state supremacy.
“I’m so proud to be part of such a great team. Every girl on the team has contributed this season and it drove us to be motivated to try and win our fifth state title in a row,” said Finke. “Being a part of this for the last four years has been a highlight of my high school career. I am exceptionally grateful for my coaches, my fellow captains, and the friendships I have formed among all on the team. I think it’s these relationships that had given us the motivation, discipline, and grit to practice and take the title. We went into the meet knowing how tight the competition was and that it would come down to every little detail, and we used that pressure to motivate us even further.”
Elsewhere on the vault, senior Lily Spencer netted an 8.8, sophomore Grace Rogers had an 8.55, and Finke recorded a mark of 8.5. For the bars, Spencer scored an 8.525, Rogers totaled an even 8.0, Finke scored a 7.75, and senior Noelle Bergere scored a 7.7 for Head Coach Kelly Smith’s squad.
“We’re so proud of the girls today. This is one of our highest scores of the season and we did it under pressure in the biggest meet of the year. Five teams scored above a 130 and we knew it would be quite a competition,” said Smith. “We were confident, but we needed to use the pressure in a positive way to be controlled, aggressive, and to hit.”
On the beam, Bergere scored an 8.6, Rogers finished with a mark of 8.45, and Spencer scored an 8.4 for the Tigers. For floor, Spencer came through with a 9.0, Bergere’s routine netted her an 8.8, and Finke scored an 8.2. In the final count of all-around scores, Naclerio led Hand with a 35.625, Spencer followed with a 34.725, Bergere scored a 33.35, and Finke posted a score of 32 for Hand.
“As she has been all season, Erin Naclerio nailed three events with 9-plus scores to anchor our rotations. She had some of her best routines on vault, beam, and floor today,” Coach Smith said. “Lily Spencer scored well for us in the [all-around] and had her highest floor score of the season with a 9.0. Senior captains Olivia Finke and Noelle Bergere both competed [all-around]. Mary Huminski and Grace Rogers, both sophomores, stood out for starting out beam with two hit routines to set the tone and take some pressure off of the rest of our beam lineup.”
Next up for Hand is the State Open Championship, which takes place at New Milford High School on Saturday, March 4. The Tigers need to finish in the top three to qualify for the New England Championship. Naclerio will be competing in all four events at the Open. Spencer is doing the vault, bars, and floor; Bergere will compete on beam and floor, and Grace Rogers is competing on the beam. Coach Smith said that the Tigers exhausted every measure they could while preparing for states and the result was another piece of memorabilia for Hand’s trophy case.
“Over the course of the week, we did a lot of beam routines, we did a mock meet, and we did a lot of mental preparation, and it really paid off today,” Smith said. “They felt good in the end with their performances, which is all we can ask for and today, it was enough.”
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