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Emond regains spirit, leads Homestead gymnasts back to state

Highlanders win sectional at Arrowhead

Feb. 26, 2013

They are fierce competitors and also friendly rivals in the world of North Shore area gymnastics.

Both North Shore/Greater Metro Conference champion Homestead and defending Division 2 state champion Whitefish Bay advanced to this week's state meet.

And Blue Dukes coach Mary Liniewski helped a bit in both equations.

Just hear out Homestead junior all-around Brittany Emond, who won the coveted title in the WIAA Division 1 sectional last Saturday at Arrowhead in leading the Highlanders to a season-best and a team championship.

"I've been doing gymnastics since I was around 4 years old," she said. "I started out at WGA (now Infinite) before I tried going over to La Fleur's (in Germantown) but that lasted only about three months. I was getting burned out.

"Then I went to the Whitefish Bay Recreation program, and they got me back into the spirit of things. They really helped me regain my confidence. They helped me find my spirit again."

Liniewski runs the Bay recreation program.

It took a lot of things like that, plus some old-fashioned hard work to get the Highlanders back to state. Coach Mike Giles and his staff have been priming the pump of excellence on the team all year as the Highlanders came up with their second season-best score in as many weeks.

They did this despite enough illness and general malaise running through the team that a Lazarus-like miracle was needed to get the team in shape. Monica Caputa, Amanda Hopkins and Tori Puhl were all battling one malady or another last week.

Despite that, the Highlanders still scored a fine 141.575 score, enough to edge fellow state team qualifier Arrowhead (140.35) for the title.

In addition, the Highlanders advanced Emond in the all-around, balance beam and uneven bars in individual competition along with Elyssa Tracy and Ellie Trau on the bars, and Hopkins, Leigh Berman and Caputa on vault.

Giles was pleased with the resiliency of his team.

"I just wasn't sure who would show up," he said of all the illness on the team, "but I give the kids a lot of credit. They really put it out there. They were dying in the workouts. We could have folded the tent, but we didn't."

The state individual competition begins at 5:40 p.m. Friday in the Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Fieldhouse with the team events set for about 11 a.m. Saturday. The team is looking to improve on its fourth-place showing of a year ago.

"It's going to take a really good day, an almost perfect day, but I still believe we can get to 143 (for a team score) and where that will fit us in the (team standings), I'm not sure," he said.

The revitalized Emond, who was not sick last week, led the way, turning in an impressive all-around mark of 36.375, which was more than half-a-point ahead of her nearest competitor. She also won the bars (9.25) and was second on beam (9.2).

"I didn't know if I could win, I just wanted to get through (to state)," she said. "The team title was also a big goal for us. Once we won conference (the previous week), it gave us the confidence to do well here. We'd been chasing Arrowhead for years. They always seemed to win it.

"To beat them is quite an accomplishment."

In the team competition, Giles said a strong start on vault with Hopkins taking second (9.25), Berman claiming fourth (9.15) and Caputa taking fifth (9.1) catapulted the Highlanders into contention right away.

Puhl missed a state berth of her own by just 0.25 of a point with a 9.075 mark.

The Highlanders then turned in another season-best on bars behind Emond, Tracy third (8.85) and Trau fifth (8.7).

"We aren't normally that good on it (bars)," said Emond, "but what we did today was huge."

After a shaky beam routine, the Highlanders finished well on floor exercise.

Though they failed to qualify any individuals, they still had some fine scores with Hopkins (9.15), Puhl (9.125) and Emond (9.0) leading the way.

"I was happy with this meet," Giles said. "Arrowhead ran a good event and a lot of kids really came out of nowhere."

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