Rhinelander’s Stephanie Kuester competes on uneven bars during the Wisconsin Rapids Classic gymnastics meet at Lincoln High School in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Dec. 2. Kuester finished sixth in the event witha career-high score of 8.0. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
12/5/2017 7:35:00 AM Hodag gymnasts seventh in season opener
WISCONSIN RAPIDS - With a full and healthy lineup for the first time in the better part of a year, the Rhinelander High School gymnastics team started the 2017-18 season better than it finished the 2016-17 campaign.
The Hodags posted a score of 117.4 points Saturday and placed seventh out of eight team in the Wisconsin Rapids Classic at Lincoln High School.
Senior Stephanie Kuester, who missed the last three meets of last season due to injury, finished ninth in the individual all-around with a career-high score of 32.175 and the Hodags put up a team total that was more than two points higher than their best score from a sesason ago.
"I'm very happy with how the girls did," coach Heather Sturtevant said. "We had freshmen with a lot of nerves that seemed to kind of rein it in and just (were) real solid."
Kuester set personal-best scores in two events. She posted an 8.0 on uneven bars, good enough for sixth-place in the event. She also had an 8.65 on the floor exercise, which was 12th out of 40 competitors.
Kuester added a score of 8.25 on vault and 7.275 on balance beam.
"Steph, coming back (from the injury), floor was huge for her," coach Sturtevant said. "An 8.65, that's her highest on floor. She also got an 8.0 on bars, which is her highest on bars too. Coming back, having to miss really a good third of last season and coming already with two personal bests is just huge."
Raven Sturtevant posted the team's best score on balance beam (7.45) and finished 15th in the all-around (29.5).
It was a tough opening meet for the Hodags, in terms of competition. River Falls took the team title with a total of 136.9 and each of the top three teams finished in the 130s.
"I think it really helped all the girls just to see how we can continue to want to improve and build on our skills, not just do the same things over and over," Sturtevant said. "It definitely gave the freshmen a big eye-opener."
Saturday marked the varsity debut for three Rhinelander freshmen. Autumn Shafer competed in two events for the Hodags, Lilli Bishop and Bridget Koser both competed on floor exercise.
"They came in, definitely jittery on the way down but once they got into warmup they just continued to do what we practice, which was really good. Not a lot of mistakes on the apparatus, now it's just a matter of getting the connections better so we get the bonuses in our routines. But, again, very proud of how they did."
Antigo, the only other Division 2 school in the field - and a team Rhinelander is chasing for a potential state tournament berth at the end of the season - was sixth with a 120.9.
"We're setting that as a bar for us and seeing if we can't have the same score or maybe even higher (than Antigo) at some point this season. Our girls are eager to do that," Sturtevant said.
Floor exercise was Rhinelander's strongest event. The Hodags scored 31.050 to finish sixth out of the eight teams. Balance beam was the weakest for the Hodags, who combined for seven falls as they posted the eighth-best score of 27.375 points.
"We did have a couple falls on beam," Sturtevant said. "We even had one fall on floor, which we usually don't have. We're definitely going to see those (scores) go up. We threw out some new skills today, so they weren't as polished as they will be next week. I'm definitely hoping for an improvement next week."
The Hodags return home this coming Saturday to host the annual Snowflake Invitational at the Jim Miazga Community Gymnasium.
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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