TOWN OF MERTON — Watertown juniors Emily Schueler and Ellie Mandel are best friends and teammates, but they are also very competitive with each other.
So when Schueler posted an eye-popping 9.25 score on the floor exercise at the Arrowhead gymnastics sectional on Satur-day, Mandel was not to be outdone.
Mandel matched Schueler’s 9.25 score as the two tied for third place honors and qualified for the WIAA Division 1 State Gymnastics Meet Friday at Wisconsin Rapids High School.
This marks the first time Watertown has qualified gymnasts for state since Katelin Ludwig and Amy Magnuson advanced in 2006.
“It’s not easy to get out of our mini state sectionals as a team or as an individual in gymnastics,” Watertown co-gymnastics coach Laurie Gallmann said.
“You have to hit your routines without a wobble and without mistakes. You have to be clean. The gymnast that can do that proves she deserves to compete at state. Ellie and Emily did just that at Arrowhead against a field of some pretty impressive athletes.”
Also, Mandel became the first Watertown gymnast in program history to qualify for state on the uneven bars with her fourth place score of 8.725. The top five in each event advance.
“None of us had any clue,” Watertown co-coach and proud mother Paula Mandel said. “We weren’t watching bar scores at all.”
That’s because the team was mainly focused on the floor exercise, which has always been Watertown’s signature event.
“The event we had the best chance at for individuals was the floor exercise,” Gallmann said.
“The girls had their routines polished and ready to go for Saturday and they have been playing with moves to add a little personality. Emily stepped out on the floor exercise with a determined look on her face. Her scores have been going up all year on this event and she just recently put in a new tumbling pass that the judges really like.
“Emily has it all — form, flexibility, strong tumbling, and a little attitude to spark her routine. When Emily got off the mat she knew she did the best she could. When they flashed a 9.25 the whole Watertown section went wild. She now had the score to beat. Emily had done it. She tied for third place to advance to state.”
Going in, Schueler kept her expectations low but her determination to stick the performance high.
“No, I was not nervous,” Schueler said. “I didn’t really think I was going to make it to state, so I just went out and did it. (When I saw the score), I thought it was amazing. I was super excited. I started crying. That’s the best score I have ever gotten.”
Then it was Mandel’s turn.
“Ellie followed Emily on the floor exercise,” Gallmann said. “I could see her face when she saw Emily’s score — excitement for Emily, and a determined look afterwards that she could do the same thing as she was signaled to start her floor routine.
“Ellie has everything a state floor needs, a front twist, high level leaps and jumps and a signature move on floor she just put in that adds a little character. Ellie walked off that floor and congratulated Emily and waited for her score. Her 9.25 was put up. She had tied with Emily. Couldn’t have been a better scenario. They both were going to state together.”
Mandel made sure of that by tapping into that competitive nature of hers.
“At the beginning of my routine, I saw her score, and thought, ‘Ooh, I want to hit my routine and match her, so I wanted to match her but also I was really proud of her for getting that score,” Mandel said. “(When I was done), I was just hoping it would be enough to get me to state. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It was a personal best, so it felt good to get my personal best.”
While floor exercise has been Watertown’s strongest event over the years, the uneven bars has traditionally been its weakest. But Mandel has slowly and steadily been inching her routine into the upper 8s throughout the season, and on this day, 8.725 was good enough to make the cut.
“Ellie got a surprise at the awards ceremony,” Gallmann said. “She threw the best bar routine I had ever seen her do and landed her dismount without a step. She had a score of 8.725, her personal best and well deserved. Paula and I didn’t really think that she could advance with her routine because everyone else was throwing giants and full dismounts and we expected higher scores.
“But, those girls throwing the bigger skills were not as clean as Ellie. They made mistakes. Ellie was the fourth best bar competitor advancing to state. Actually, Ellie will be the first Watertown gymnast to advance on this event.”
That was news to Mandel.
“I had no idea,” Mandel said. “I didn’t even know. That is crazy. That makes it even better.”
Watertown posted a team score of 133.6, good for a fifth place. Homestead and Arrowhead took first and second, respectively, and advanced to team state competition.
Watertown started on the beam, which dropped the Goslings at least 2 team points with their performance.
“Not one of our better team beam days,” Gallmann said. “Bella Reichardt scored 6.65, Ellie scored 6.825, Emily scored 7.925, Angela Breunig scored 8.2, and last was Ellen Vitale, who hit her routine but had a wobble in her full turn. That’s not a huge mistake, but enough to take her out of the top five. She has a beautiful routine with a full dismount and scored an 8.7 and placed 10th.”
Ricky DeCono hyperextended her knee Friday night before the meet.
“That was disappointing,” Gallmann said. “She consistently brings in some nice scores for us. Bella Reichardt was up for the challenge and became our fifth all around. Bella did a nice job for us on floor scoring a 7.575. Angela attempted a new pass and scored an 8.15, and Ellen was last up and scored an 8.65, helping the floor score to a 35.3.”
The Goslings also maintained a solid tradition on vault with their effort at the sectional.
Reichardt (7.5), Schueler (8.2), Mandel (8.45), Breunig (8.725) and Vitale (8.85) competed for Watertown.
“Paula does a super job with the girls on the vault,” Gallmann said. “Their handspring fulls have peaked at the right time and have brought the team consistent and upper eight scoring.”
Watertown closed out the meet on the uneven bars.
“Going into our last event, uneven bars, the girls were still upbeat,” Gallmann said. “Bella scored a 7.3. Angela had her best routine of the year, even though the score did not reflect it and scored a 7.9. Ellen missed her big move and dropped her score to a 7.35. Emily scored an 8.30, hitting her handstand she has been working so hard for and Ellie scored an 8.725.”
In all-around scoring, Schueler led the team with a ninth place score of 33.925. Vitale took 11th with a 33.450. Mandel took 12th with a 33.250. Breunig took 14th with a 32.975. Reichardt’s all-around score was 29.025. The cut-off for all-around qualifying was 34.675.
Individual competition at the state meet takes place on Friday. The state team competition is held on Saturday. The building opens at 3:45 p.m. on Friday and competition begins at 5:40 p.m.
“The team had a very successful season this year, going 5-1 in conference,” Gallmann said. “It’s just a little sweeter taking girls to compete at the state meet.”
Team scores: Homestead 141.575, Arrowhead 140.35, Menomonee Falls/Germantown 138.875, Nicolet 133.8, Watertown 133.6, West Allis Hale/Central 132, Brookfield East/Central 132.0, Oconomowoc 112.5.