WELCOME - Martin County Area's gymnasts gained a valuable year of experience on the equipment last season, but the Magic remain exceptionally young for the upcoming winter campaign.
In fact, Martin County Area - a fourth-year sharing combination between Martin County West and Fairmont - enters tonight's 6 p.m. season-opening dual meet against Luverne in Welcome with no seniors on its roster.
"With no seniors on this team, we (coaching staff) have to think in terms of what we want to accomplish from a two-year perspective," said Magic mentor LeeAnn Steen, who guided the Mavericks and Magic to seven consecutive Class A state team appearances from 2005-11 before placing third behind Section 3 champion Jackson County Central and runner-up Worthington last February.
VAULTING INTO OPENER?— Members of the Martin County Area Magic gymnastics team opening the season by playing host to Luverne tonight in Welcome include, front row (l-r): Brielle Meade, Bethany Rossow, Grace Mayo, Morgan Wolter and Andrea Thate. Middle row: Brooke Forstrom, Jenna Steele, Briana Gratz, Mackenzie Betts, Kayla Shantz, Kersten Shantz, Maggie Bachenberg and Lexi Ringnell. Back row: Micaela Gochanour, Cara Behrends, Michaela Twitchell, Rebecca Steen, Martha Olson and Sydney Leichtnam. Not pictured: Brooklyn Leichtnam. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Junior co-captains Rebecca Steen and Briana Gratz will look to pack scoring punch to the defending South Central Conference champions' high-octane rotation after producing stellar numbers last season.
Rebecca Steen, the third highly-skilled daughter of LeeAnn and assistant coach Brian Steen, returns to the Welcome gymnasium on the heels of three top 10 finishes at the 2012 Class A individual state meet.
Rebecca Steen earned a fourth-place state medal on the balance beam to complement a seventh-place showing on the vault and a ninth-place performance on the floor exercise en route to an eighth-place finish in the elite all-around competition.
The seven-time state-qualifying gymnast will likely anchor all four events and serve as an all-arounder for the Magic's talent-laden and youthful lineup.
Gratz, a perennial uneven parallel bars worker, and freshman Sydney Leichtnam will join Steen to provide experienced stability to the uneven bars rotation, while eighth-grade phenom Martha Olson will turn her Tsukahara on the vault for a second straight season.
"Obviously, we'll continue to work on increasing the level of difficulty of our routines as the season progresses, but during the early stages, we're working on fitness and technique," said LeeAnn Steen. "We're still very young, and the competition on each piece (of equipment) looks fairly wide open at this point."
Juniors Kersten Shantz and Mackenzie Betts, sophomores Michaela Twitchell and Alexis Ringnell, along with the eighth-grade tandem of Maggie Bachenberg and Andrea Thate, all return as varsity letterwinners after producing key points as highly-skilled specialists for the Magic a year ago.
While sophomore Kayla Shantz returns to the equipment after a one-year hiatus, unfortunately, junior specialist Brooklyn Leichtnam will begin the campaign on the sideline due to an elbow injury.
Leichtnam captured the bronze medal on the balance beam during the 2012 SCC Meet.
Carissa Morris, who earned the conference vault championship and placed third on the floor in the same meet last year, will lend a helping hand to the Magic's practices and meets while taking classes at an area college this season.
"We know Jackson (County Central) will be tough in the section again due to returning three solid all-arounders, " Steen said in reference to the Magic's top rival in Section 3. "We just have to keep working hard and get better every day we're in the gym, and take it from there."
Martin County Area competes in the Blue Earth Area Invitational at 11 a.m. Saturday in Winnebago.
The Magic then travel to Windom Area for a non-league dual meet on Thursday, Dec. 13, before playing host to Jackson County Central on Thursday, Dec. 20, in another nonconference dual meet in Welcome.