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Traveling time: Area gymnasts claim first state team title

Zurowski also earns vault championship

March 7, 2011

Next year, Muskego senior Erin Honerlaw will likely take her sturdy Toyota Camry to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she hopes to begin her studies for the medical field.

The car had done good work carting freshmen and sophomores over to Altius Gymnastics Academy in Franklin for practice all season long.

But she doesn't fret about whether her teammates on the newly crowned WIAA State Division 1 champion Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall girls gymnastics team will still be able to find rides next season, when the process of defending the title begins.

Showing spirit

She just knows that it'll happen.

"Next year the sophomores will have their licenses," she said. "It'll be all right."

And that's just a small example of the team spirit that bonds this local gymnastics co-op.

It's why they went over to Whitnall High School just before leaving for Wisconsin Rapids last Friday to stride with state vault champion Lauren Zurowski as she takes part in the Whitnall state qualifying tradition of walking through the hallways to the cheers of classmates.

It's also why they hounded coach Katie Moore if they could all go to Muskego for the pep rally that was also held that morning.

Because that's the kind of intensity you have to bring if you're a four-school co-op pulling disparate attitudes and personalities together, always having to explain your name in the process.

Because the intensity also helps you put aside two years of frustrating state runner-up finishes, as well as a series of debilitating injuries that cost you the services of two regulars for an entire season, and just aids in putting aside all the doubts, misgivings and trails and errors that go into this highly competitive sport.

Helping earn a first-time ever state championship in the process.

Champions all

"We did it," said Franklin senior Becky Schultz, the only other senior aside from Honerlaw. "It makes everything we went through worthwhile. All the hard work, all the injuries, this just makes all that go away."

The locals also got an individual state crown from sophomore Lauren Zurowski in vault with a spectacular score of 9.567 in the individual competition Friday, the day before the team competition.

"She's always had a pretty amazing vault," said coach Katie Moore. "It's been great all year for her and she put it together here with as big a vault as I've ever seen."

Honerlaw also grabbed her own individual medal with a fifth on balance beam.

For Moore, who has been with the team for seven years through its various incarnations, it has all been part of a long road from the simple co-op that was started between Franklin and Muskego more than a decade ago to this far more complicated and diverse combination, with kids hitching rides from two counties and all points south.

Staying on balance

And it all came down to one moment and one event right at the end of the team competition: the balance beam.

She told her athletes at that moment that winning the team title was about letting go of the past and embracing the future. That includes banishing the mistakes that spoiled the team's unbeaten 2010 season with the runner-up state meet finish.

"We were feeling good about things heading into the balance beam," Moore said, "but we didn't know the exact outcome because we had had a few mistakes on uneven bars (before Honerlaw and team anchor Sammie Olson steadied things on the event). I just told them to focus on their own performance."

"That the team that can forget its mistakes will win the meet."

The pep talk worked, as Schultz (9.15), Zurowski (season best 9.283), Olson (9.267) and Melanie Pearson (9.05) combined to give the locals a meet best team event total of 36.75. They could even afford to throw out Honerlaw's otherwise solid 8.78.

"Last year, the beam was a major problem for us," said Moore, "but last week, the beam won the sectional meet for us. So something like that just gave us a huge amount of confidence."

"They knew they could get it done."

After that, the locals couldn't celebrate just yet, as their good friends from Burlington/Badger/Wilmot went up on the same event with a chance of stealing away the title yet again.

"It was so hard," said Honerlaw. "We were pretty sure we had won the meet at that point, but we weren't entirely sure. There are always surprises. We saw their scores and we just wondered. Did we lose by the smallest of amounts again?"

Finally, a victory lap

But they had not and then Honerlaw and Schultz, who had first dibs on the big gold state trophy, could start leading their team around a celebratory lap of the Rapids' Fieldhouse.

"We knew that the pressure was on for the final event, the beam," Schultz said, "but we knew how hard we had worked on it. There was no doubt that we would go five for five on that event and we did."

"We just couldn't bear the thought of finishing second again."

The locals turned in a team score of 144.2 in the 10-team field as Burlington took second with 143.817 and two-time champ Arrowhead was third with 143.215.

"Just all the waiting and all the work over the years was so hard," said Moore. "It was just such an emotional day. The kids had waited so long. They were counting on doing their best in this moment."

And that was because they had continued to prepare, right through the end of that last practice at Altius last Thursday.

"We refused to go easy at all," said Schultz. "We worked hard all week, because we knew we had to hit. We had to be better than everyone else."

So Schultz, who also helped drive people over the two minutes from school to Altius, and the rest of her teammates can feel proud. They no longer have to lower their voices when they explain their long name anymore.

No, not anymore, because they're now all members of the state champion Franklin/Muskego/Whitnall/Oak Creek girls gymnastics team.

"There are not that many girls from all the schools and not all the schools have the equipment or can afford it," she said. "So if we didn't do this (co-op) we wouldn't have a team."

Or a gold trophy to call their own.

State champs at last

WIAA STATE DIVISION I MEET

Wisconsin Rapids

TEAM SCORES: Franklin/Muskego/ Oak Creek/Whitnall 144.2, Burlington/Badger/Catholic Central/Wilmot 143.817, Arrowhead 143.215, Oshkosh West/Lourdes/North 139.401, Homestead 139.082, Sheboygan 138.233, Holmen 135.315, Verona/Madison Edgewood 135.183, Stevens Point 134.2, Wisconsin Rapids 131.066

CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM PARTICIPANTS: Schultz, Zurowski, Olson, Pearson, Honerlaw, Shannon Hein, and Courtney L'Huillier.

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