Solid performances in the floor exercise is a major contributor as to why the 12 members of the Chugiak High School girls’ gymnastics team remains undefeated this fall season.
At the team’s Sept. 9 meet with Bartlett, East and Service high schools, first and second place performances by sophomore Kaitlyn Forbush and freshman Alyssa Saylor scoring 8.15 and 7.6 respectively in the floor exercises combined with CHS gymnasts claiming six of the other top ten spots to propel the Lady Mustangs to a meet victory with 181.45 total points – 57 more than the second place spot taken by Service.
“We have lots of strong floor exercises this year, which is somewhat unusual because that can be the area where a high school program is sometimes really lacking, but our girls have come up with some fun chorography,” Wendy Wiltflong, the CHS gymnastics coach, told The ECHO News in a phone interview. “Each of our girls is fulfilling every requirement of that event, which can be very difficult to accomplish at the high school level.”
This Friday’s meet set for 4:30 p.m. at Dimond High School featuring the teams from CHS, DHS, South Anchorage and West Anchorage high schools ought to be an accurate preview of the district regionals in November, Wiltfong said.
The Lady Mustangs did not compete last weekend because not enough judges were available for the scheduled meet with Eagle River, East and Dimond high schools. That was okay with Wilting. It gave her team even more time to fine tune their floor exercises and work on balance beam skills.
In high school gymnastics, a fall from the balance beam is almost a given, Wiltfong explained. “It isn’t like in the Olympics where it is rare for a gymnast to have a fall while competing in the balance beam,” she said. “It’s a disaster in the Olympics to have a fall. In high school, if balance beam is done with only one fall, that is a major accomplishment.” Yet, those falls are costly: a half point for each one. Minimizing the amount of falls in each performance is the key to receiving a score as close to the potential score available for each routine, she explained.
“We are definitely focusing on beam,” Wiltfong said. “We are focused on staying on the beam for the routine and sticking the landing at the end. Solid routines on beam send a message to the other competing schools. And when it comes to regionals, those half points for falls on beams will make the difference between who wins and who does not.” While Wiltfong said her coaching is blessed this season with 12 strong athletes, one of this year’s freshman is taking the local high school gymnastics season by storm.
Alyssa Saylor – a club gymnast still working with her club as well as competing within the high school system – won the Sept. 9 all-around with 31 points total for the four events that comprise high school gymnastics. Her scores for each event were: balance beam, 8.0; floor exercise, 7.6; uneven bars, 7.4; and vault, 8.0. She’ll be one to watch Friday afternoon and at regionals, Wiltfong said.
For this season, the CHS gymnasts have opted for modern upbeat music for their floor exercises. Wiltfong said it is getting the crowd – a growing group often featuring athletes from other sports and fellow students, especially freshman and sophomores’, attending meets to cheer on the Lady Mustangs – engaged with the competition. Saylor uses the music selected by U.S. Olympic gymnast who won team gold and silver in the balance beam in Aug. at the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for her floor exercise. It’s called “Da Bop.” It’s by the German pop group, WTF! It was released in 2012 and according to TheRinger.com, Hernadez selected it last spring as a list of “who’s who” in U.S. gymnastics including legendary, long-time coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi listened in to a playlist of potential songs. When “Da Bop” was played, Hernadez liked it immediately and according to TheRinger.com report, Martha told her it was like the music she danced to when younger.
When “Da Bop” is played at CHS meets, Wiltfong said it is a familiar sound and fans begin picturing Hernadez as they prepare to watch Saylor. It’s a jamming sound that prompts local fans to sway in the stands being more active participants in the watching process. “This year’s music definitely stands out more. It pumps it up for the gymnast and for the crowd,” Wiltfong said. She added with a chuckle, “I have been doing a lot of You-tubing.” She’s also working on guiding the high school gymnasts under her prevue toward performing routines with moves they know they can do without mistakes. It’s a challenging mix of encouraging the 12 Lady Mustangs to learn new skills but wait to showcase them in their routines until they have them mastered in practice.
Sarah Smith, Anna Madsen and Kaitlyn Forbush from upper left to bottom right helped the Lady Mustangs secure a victory on Sept. 9
Photos by Daniel Shepard“Sometimes I have to be tough and reign them in a little bit,” Wiltfong said. But after more than a decade of coaching at CHS, she also knows the reality that competitions are won most often by the best performance of a less demanding routine. “Sometimes, I have to tell my girls that yes, I know you want to do the back handspring and yes, it is so cool. But if you do a back extension role or a backwards role, it is worth the same value and you know you can do it correctly and you won’t get the deductions.”
For now, Wiltfong is somewhat muddling her way through being the only coach for a dozen girls she describes as probably the best athletes she’s ever had on the CHS gymnastic team. Budget cuts eliminated the assistant coach position. This is Wiltfong’s first season coaching solo. “It is ironic because we are at the top of our game this year with 12 tremendous girls and I have no help,” Wiltfong said. “It is stretching me to help them all equally. I will be teaching one girl how to do a cartwheel when another one needs a spotter. But I have 12 amazing athletes who are at every practice giving it their 100 percent, so I am doing all I can to meet them there.”
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Scores from the Sept. 9 meet for CHS:
Balance beam: Alyssa Saylor, 8.0; Trinity Nusbaum, 7.0; Anna Madsen, 6.9; Anya Green, 6.8; Kiya Gates, 6.4; Kaitlyn Forbush, 5.9; Hannah Smith, 5.3; and Sarah Smith, 5.3.
Floor exercise: Forbush, 8.15; Saylor, 7.6; Nusbaum, 7.45; Green, 7.2; Gates and Madsen, 7.1; and S. Smith, 6.6.
Uneven bars: Saylor 7.4; Gates, 4.7; Nusbaum and S. Smith, 4.5; Forbush and H. Smith, 4.3.
Vault: Saylor, 8.0; Madsen, 7.7; Nusbaum, 7.4; Gates, 7.2; Forbush, 7.0; H. Smith, 6.6.