Sports all across the Region continue to blossom and grow into something incredible, and gymnastics is one of those sports that continues to succeed.
The gymnastics teams all over Northwest Indiana (NWI) have made a lot of triumphs this 2022-23 season. Valparaiso High School won its 14th state title, Portage High School ended the season with great numbers, Crown Point High School placed 3rd after there state championship, Merrillville High School continued showing resilience and a great attitude, Lake Central High School placed 5th in the state at the end of the season and so on. Each team in NWI and beyond worked hard to get where they are, and it doesn’t go unnoticed.
These victories, big or small, wouldn't have been possible without the ladies on the squad along with the coaches.
“We had a phenomenal season this year,” said Mackenzie Murchek, Portage High School Gymnastics head coach. “We ended our season with the fourth-highest team score in the state. We sent two gymnasts to State again this year. Gymnastics is extremely competitive up here, and it is absolutely the best in the State of Indiana. To be able to finish amongst the best is really just great.”
This shows that teamwork goes a long way no matter if you are competing alone or in a group.
“Gymnastics is a physical and very mental sport,” said Angie LaRocco, the La Porte High School Gymnastics coach. “You can tell when someone is stressing about something or they're just not hitting skills. With everyone cheering each other on, it can lift their spirits and help them push through.”
Teams across the state have been working on goals, and the goal for everyone is to have success. Valparaiso gymnasts had that success with an undefeated regular season along with Duneland Athletic Conference (DAC), Sectional, Regional, and State championships.
“They worked really hard to do what they did,” said Rebecca Juergens, Valparaiso High School’s head coach. “You can win the state without having an undefeated season, but these guys did it without a single loss, which is pretty impressive.”
Another impressive thing is the amount of dedication and drive these teams had. Diane Roberts, the Merrillville High School Gymnastics head coach, talks so highly of her squad and how proud she is of every one of them.
“I'm so proud of these girls with the fact that no matter what is thrown at them, they are so resilient,” said Roberts. “Once they step into the gym, they are laser-focused on trying to better themselves and therefore bettering their team. We take pride in being good ambassadors.”
Each coach talks about their best in the squad along with the team as a whole because without everyone on the team, they wouldn’t be as successful as they are.
“I was proud of all of the girls that have stuck it out over the years. We felt like we're a little family,” said LaRocco. “The girls call me mom a lot of times in the gym because we spend a lot of time together.”
Along with LaPorte, Crown Point High School gymnastics achievements show what a team really stands for. Elly Kiran, a gymnast at Crown Point High School, was one of the top medalists at the 2023 IHSAA State Gymnastics Finals in her junior season. Along with that, Senior Charlotte Annes was the Mildred M. Ball Mental Attitude Award winner. This dedication and grit from these two ladies and the team were just outstanding.
Spending a lot of time together and in the game, as most of these coaches and gymnasts do, you learn what makes a good coach no matter what the sport or the group is like. Connecting with your athletes is the most important step to continuing that driving bond.
“The most important thing to me is the relationships that you make with your student-athletes right off the bat,” said Roberts. “Open the lines of communication, and make sure that you treat every athlete as a person. They are more than just an athlete. They're more than just a gymnast. I take pride in taking a special interest in their personal lives and being there for them not only as a gymnastics coach but also as a life mentor.”
Without the coaching staff on any team, the girls on it wouldn’t have become so great in their craft throughout those years, they are also proud of their successes as an individual and as a group.
“Gymnastics is an individual and team sport at the same time,” said Kate Thibideau, a senior gymnast at La Porte High School, “This is a sport that teaches a lot of self-discipline, time management, and perseverance.”
Alongside perseverance, working with such a supportive group of people makes landing the routine a lot easier.
“My biggest support system is my team,” said Senior Gabi Grisafi, a gymnast at Valparaiso High School. “When I'm having a difficult practice and don't have the motivation to come, I show up for them because I know they hold me accountable and expect me to give it my all just like they do.”
This season has been a success all around as these ladies work on their craft and common goals for one another, but they wouldn’t have done it without the coaching staff.
Portage High School’s Payton Peele talked highly of her two coaches, Murchek and Lyndsey Hayes, who were both state champions back in 2013. Having the experience they have, she has watched and learned from them every day.
“I’ve learned the attitude of a winner,” said Peele. “Even on the days I was tired and maybe didn’t want to go as hard at practice as I did the day before, I would walk in, and Kenzie would have a plan. It made me want to do my best seeing how excited she was about gymnastics. Lyndsey taught me confidence. Throughout the years she has coached me, her line to me has been, ‘Chin up, fix the face.’”
All throughout the season, the coaching staff and gymnasts worked hard to get where they are, but along with reminiscing about these great meets and athletes, they love to look onto the team's future growth in years to come.
“I am looking forward to getting a middle school program back at Portage,” said Murchek. “I'm really looking forward to getting more kids involved and trying to try and to remind these young athletes that they only get to compete for their communities for a very short amount of time.”
For more information on Gymnastics at High Schools: Valparaiso High School, Portage High School, La Porte High School, Merrillville High School, Michigan City High School, Crown Point High School, Chesterton High School, Hobart High School