It's not a formal distinction, just a nice honor that Homestead girls gymnastics coach Mike Giles would like to build upon.
The Highlanders, in claiming third at the WIAA state team championships Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids, were the highest finishing single-school program in the field, behind the large and dominant Franklin-based and Burlington-based co-ops.
"It was going to be very hard for us to manufacture another eight points (to compete with the co-ops)," Giles said. "That just wasn't going to happen. To move up next year, we'll need another good off-season, we'll need to increase our degree of difficulty.
"Hopefully, everyone will work at improving. We'll also get a few more new kids, which should help our depth and help us become more competitive."
The finish, which was augmented by a fourth-place finish by team leader Brittany Emond on the balance beam in the individual event championships, completed a stellar season for the all-underclassmen Highlanders.
They scored 141.3 points for their spot in the 10-school field as Franklin won its third straight title (150.516). Burlington finished second for the third straight year (148.001).
Giles was most impressed with how well the Highlanders finished. They were sitting in sixth going into their last rotation, the vault, and Leah Berman started the team out in a spectacular fashion with a 9.35 effort.
That was quickly followed in short succession by four other good efforts, including nines from Tori Puhl, who was battling a heel injury (9.15), Monica Caputa (9.15) and Amanda Hopkins (9.367). Homestead was so sound in the event that Emond's fine 8.95 could be thrown out.
That 37.017 team effort pushed the Highlanders ahead of Arrowhead (141.135) and North Shore rival Grafton/Cedarburg (140.7) into third. It was Homestead's best event by close to two points.
"The girls fought really well all day," Giles said. "We had a little difficulty on balance beam, but we pulled it together."
Giles also praised the effort of Elyssa Tracy, who filled in for Puhl on the balance beam and recorded a sound 8.46, which helped pull the team to a 35.316 total on the event.
"That was a clutch performance we absolutely had to have," Giles said.
Other good efforts during the team performance included Emond's 9.33 and Hopkins' 9.183 on beam; Emond's 9.183 and Puhl's 8.967 in floor exercise and Emond's 8.95 on bars.
Emond's solid team performance backed up a great effort in the individual events the day before. She won her fourth place medal on beam with a 9.467 score, tied for eighth on the bars (9.1) and claimed seventh in the all-around with a 36.9 total.
Giles was happy for her.
"We always know what we're going to get from Brittany," Giles said. "She's always mentally ready. She's in good physical shape and she's just very, very competitive."
In addition to her efforts, other individual scores included Berman and Caputa (9.017 each) and Hopkins 8.833, all on vault, and Tracy (8.617) and Ellie Trau (8.283) on bars.
The team portion of the season was a great point of pride for Giles. The Highlanders won the West Bend and Arrowhead Invitationals, took second at both their own Highlander and at the Whitefish Bay Invites and then claimed both the North Shore Conference and WIAA sectional titles.
And as noted, Giles is looking forward to next year.
"We'll have more depth and competition on the team," he said. "The kids are actually excited. We'll get the summer program working at the 'Y' and hopefully move on from there."
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