Trojans nail it; win 4th state crown

Senior Sydney Samson dives into a vault during the State Class A team meet Friday. (Chuck Kajer Photo)

The New Prague Trojan gymnastics team capped a roller coaster season Friday, Feb. 23, by winning the prize that they had set their sights on back in November.

The Trojans stuck 20 out of 20 routines and posted a school record 149.6 points to claim the program’s fourth state championship. The title was dedicated to the memory of the man who guided the program for 33 years and who started the season with them - Head Coach Matt Shetka.

Shetka died of a heart attack in December, just a few weeks into a season where the team had great expectations. Last year’s squad had finished second at the state meet behind Melrose, and with the entire varsity team returning this year, Shetka and the girls pulled no punches in stating that a state championship was the ultimate goal. “Unfinished Business” was the slogan chosen for the season.

The Trojan sealed the deal in the most unlikely of ways - on the balance beam. New Prague led by seven-tenths of a point after three rotations, with Melrose following them in the rotation. The Trojans have struggled at times on the beam this season.

But not on this day. Brianna Ellanson started the Trojans on the event. The freshman fell twice last week on the beam at the section meet and was visibly upset with her performance.

But on Friday, she scored a 9.1 to give the Trojans a solid start. Her teammates followed her lead.

Jaimie Niedermayer posted a season-high 9.45, and was followed by Marissa Ekness, who also had a season-high with a 9.4.

Ekness appeared to wobble and lose her balance midway through the routine, but caught herself and then smiled before finishing the routine.

When asked what she was thinking when she smiled, she said “The whole time I was like, ‘I need to stick this.’ When I almost fell, I thought of Shetka, and I thought about all the seniors, and I went and did it.”

Jess Niedermayer and Sarah Hoffman followed with scores of 9.5 and 9.55 respectively to give the Trojans a team score of 37.9 on the event. Not only had they conquered the beam, but they had set a state tournament record in the event.

Speaking at a welcome home celebration Sunday evening at the high school auditorium, Coach Doug Amundsen said the rotations were set up so that Melrose, ranked No. 1 in the state, would be following them on each event.

“I told the girls to relax and do what they do. If we can put the pressure on Melrose, things would fall into place.“

He said the girls proceeded to put on a clinic at the meet.

“I don’t ever remember one of our teams sticking 20 out of 20. A 149.6 score wsa incredible... it was just one-tenths of a point off of the Class AA winning score of Roseville.”

Fighting tears, he concluded “There are no words I can say about how proud I am of these girls and what they’ve done over the last 2-1/2 months... going from the heartache they experienced to being state champs.”

The Trojans started competition on the floor exercise, which is normally one of their best events. All five competitors scored a 9.1 or higher, and the Trojans had a 37.625 on the event, enough to open up a small lead over Melrose.

Jess Niedermayer scored a 9.375 on floor, an event that had been giving her troubles due to an ankle injury.

“Most of the season I had some troubles on my first pass, but I hit it perfectly today, it felt awesome.”

Sarah Hoffman wrapped up the floor with a team-high 9.45.

“I think it was one of my best routines, even if it was not the best score. We all had a lot of fun out there and did well,” she noted.

The Trojans expanded the lead on vault, again, with each competitor topping the nine-point mark.

“I had my highest score ever on the vault,” Jaimie Niedermayer said. “To do it today of all days was great.”

From there the Trojans went on to the bars. While the scores were not as good as on the other events - the Trojans only topped nine twice - they were still better than the other teams. New Prague had the highest team score in each of the four events.

“Doug has been telling us all season that we’re a 149-point team. He knew it was in there,” said Christine Simon.

After the competition the girls were pretty confident that they had won the meet, but that didn’t stop them from being nervous as they held hands while the scores were announced. When Melrose was annouced as the second place team, the girls lit up. When their score was announced at 149.6, their jaws dropped.

Melrose was second at 147.9, with Austin third at 146.425. Other teams were Perham (143.3), Big Lake (142.3), Jackson County Central (141.3), Rush City/Pine City/Hinckley-Finlayson (140.325) and Delano (139.25).

Trojan scores on each event:

Vault: Sarah Hoffman 9.525, Jaimie Niedermayer 9.5, Megan Dubanoski 9.375, Bridget Ellanson 9.3, Sydney Samson 9.075

Bars: Jessica Niedermayer 9.375, Ashley Nerud 9.275, Christine Simon 8.9, Brianna Ellanson 8.825, Jaimie Niedermayer 8.425

Beam: Hoffman 9.55, Jessica Niedermayer 9.5, Jaimie Niedermayer 9.45, Marissa Ekness 9.4, Brianna Ellanson 9.1

Floor: Hoffman 9.45, Bridget Ellanson 9.425, Jess Niedermayer 9.376, Jaimie Niedermayer 9.375, Brianna Ellanson 9.1.

Individual meet The Trojans had 12 entries competing in Saturday’s individual meet. Only one - Jess Niedermayer - placed in the top six of their event. She placed fourth on the bars.

When asked about the results, Amundsen said while the Trojans may have had a bit of a letdown after Friday, the scores were still pretty solid. He pointed out that the girls competing on Saturday were the best of the best, the toughest individual competiton they had seen all year. Scores for the Trojans:

Vault: Jaimie Niedmerayer, 8th, 9.4; Sydney Samson 18th, 9.225; Sarah Hoffman 19th, 9.225,

Bars: Jess Niedermayer 4th, 9.35; Ashley Nerud 7th, 9.25; Jaimie Niedermayer 21st, 8.8; Christine Simon 22nd, 8.75

Beam: Jess Niedermayer 10th, 9.325; Hoffman 12th, 9.25; Jaimie Niedermayer 9.225

Floor: Bridget Ellanson 7th, 9.425; Jaime Niedermayer 9th, 9.425

All-Around: Jaimie Neidrmayer, 7th, 36.85