Slightly short-handed, the Rhinelander High School gymnastics team managed a sixth-place finish in the nine-team Ashland Valentines Invite on Saturday in what was the team's final tune-up prior to the Great Northern Conference and WIAA sectional meets.
Rhinelander was without junior Bridget Koser (toe) but still managed a team score of 111.45 points and was the second-highest finishing GNC Small school in the field, behind Medford which won the meet with a score of 128.425.
"We were short Bridget, so we knew that we would not getting team-best scores, but still hitting the 111s was higher than our goal. That was awesome," Rhinelander coach Heather Sturtevant said.
Junior Lilli Bishop once again led the Hodags as she posted the team's highest score in three of the four events and took 15th in the all-around with a score of 29.925. She finished 14th on the floor exercise (7.8), 15th on balance beam (7.4), 22nd on vault (8.0) and 24th on never bars (6.725).
"Lilli had another just real nice, solid day," Sturtevant said. "She finally cracked the 8s on vault, which has been eluding her all season. She's gotten a whole bunch of 7.9s, 7.95s. So that was really great."
Autumn Shafer finished 23rd in the all-around with a 28.3 and sophomore Abby Belbot posted a career-best 26.825 in the all-around as she finished 24th. Belbot was Rhinelander's top performer on balance beam, taking 14th with a 7.45.
"Abby threw up some nice, solid scores," Sturtevant said. "She continues to improve. She had a personal best on beam and bars again today, a personal best all-around. Every day the girls just keep stepping up that little bit each time. We just keep getting rewarded for it. It was a real good day for everybody."
Freshman Payton Rudawski tied Bishop for the team's best performance on vault with an 8.0 and added a no-fall routine on balance beam to take 18th (7.15).
"Having three girls at the same time getting in the 7s. Abby, Payton and Lilli had no-fall routines and, when they stay on, we're being rewarded," Sturtevant said. "There's still little things to work on, but things are really coming together."
In what was a prelude to what's expected to be tight sectional battle, Medford edged Ashland and Antigo for the overall title. The three teams were separated by 2.25 points and only the top two teams at sectionals will qualify for the team portion of the WIAA state meet in Wisconsin Rapids next month.
Medford also leads Rhinelander in the GNC Small Division standings entering this coming Saturday's conference meet at Chequamegon High School in Park Falls. Though the Hodags could mathematically earn at least a share of the conference title by beating Medford, Sturtevant conceded that will be difficult to do, given the way the Raiders are performing.
"We know going into conference next week, we can't throw a high 120. We just can't and we know that," she said. "So, really, the girls are just working on themselves and collectively as a team. Can we beat our 115.075 that we got last week (against Medford)? Can we make that even higher and can any girls slide in maybe somewhere on that podium individually? That's what they're all working toward."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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