Magic to vault into opener vs. JCC

BEAMING — Members of the Martin County Area Magic gymnastics lineup opening the season by competing in a dual meet against Jackson County Central on Friday night in Jackson include, front row (l-r): Breanna Groskratz, Kara Omundson, Theadocia Peterson, Hannah Cramer, Grace Danner, Madi Hofer and Kadyn Owens. Second row: Anna Bachenberg, Gwen Kallemeyn and Abigaile Chavez. Third row: Manager Natalie Smith, Sady Ringnell, Anna Utermarck, Ivy Kokoruda, Marah Steele, Sabrina Segar, Ella Meyers, Hannah Linse, Kaitlyn Freese and manager Kirsten Steuber. Back row: Assistant coach Dan Sparks, Ellie Schultze, Emily Hagen, Miah Olson, Hailee Schuett, Emma Schultze, Hudson Ringnell, Ellie Hernes, head coach LeeAnn Steen and assistant coach Brian Steen. (Photo by Randy Chirpich)

WELCOME — While Minnesota Gophers head football coach P.J. Fleck owns the trademark for his mantra, “Row the Boat,” the Martin County Area Magic gymnasts literally have rowed themselves into shape this season.

“We’ve increased the amount of fitness work we do during practice, and utilizing the new rowing machine has really helped us in achieving better core training,” said Martin County Area head coach LeeAnn Steen, whose lineup opens its dual-meet schedule by squaring off against Section 3A rival Jackson County Central at 6 p.m. Friday night in Jackson. “I’ve gotten a number of (training) ideas from being in crossfit, and have implemented them into our practices.”

Steen also believes that her 26-gymnast roster is stronger this campaign in part to natural maturity combined with competing in other varsity athletics.

“We have a number of girls coming off successful fall seasons in soccer and cross country, so they’re coming into practice in better shape overall,” said Steen. “With the exception of (2018 graduate) Brielle (Meade), we competed a young lineup last season.

“They’ve been working out on their own in the gym and going to offseason camps, and now they’re hungry for the season to start and they’re ready to compete.”

Sophomore Sabrina Segar returns to the Magic’s starting rotation after capturing 34th place in the Class A state floor exercise competition with a 9.125-scored performance in the Twin Cities.

Segar generated Martin County Area’s top all-around total — 34.35 points — during the Magic’s fourth-place team showing in the sectional meet a year ago.

Segar will return to compete on all four pieces of equipment in 2018-19, with eighth-grader Anna Bachenberg a likely candidate to also compete as an all-arounder this winter. Bachenberg delivered counting scores for the Magic on the balance beam and floor exercise during last year’s sectional competition.

“We have five more out than last year, and out of those 26, we have 10 letterwinners returning,” Steen said in reference to junior Emma Schultze; sophomore Sady Ringnell; freshmen Ellie Hernes, Gwen Kallemeyn, Hannah Linse, Hailee Schuett and Ellie Schultze; and eighth-grader Anna Utermarck, in addition to Segar and Bachenberg.

Kallemeyn will compete on the uneven parallel bars, floor and vault this season, while Utermarck will likely see time on the vault, beam and floor after both proved reliable scorers at the varsity level last winter.

Ellie Schultze, who worked giants on the unevens in 2017-18, will return to her specialty and the balance beam, while Schuett will look to add points on the unevens and floor again.

Linse contributed to the Magic’s vault effort as an eighth-grader, while Sady Ringnell chipped in scores on the floor.

If Martin County Area hopes to return to the Class A state team competition for the first time since 2014, it will have to dethrone four-time sectional champion Worthington and overcome perennial sectional challenger JCC.

“Worthington returns a strong lineup from last year, while Jackson (County Central) is always competitive,” said Steen.

Brian Steen returns as one of LeeAnn Steen’s assistants, while a familiar face returns to the coaching staff in Dan Sparks.

“Dan worked as a spotter for us when he was in high school (at Martin County West) before he coached at a club in River Falls (Wisconsin),” said LeeAnn Steen. “Since he’s returned to the area, he’s helped us with the Mini-Magic program, so he’s familiar with our program and we’re happy to have him back in the gym.”

Martin County Area faces Luverne in its home-opening dual meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, in Welcome.