As the calendar turned a page to March, Hand gymnastics etched another chapter in its storied history.
On March 1 at Pomperaug, the Tigers tallied a whopping 142.275 points to claim their second-straight Class M state championship—the program’s 15th state crown overall. It was a clean sweep for the Tigers at the competition, winning the vault, bars, beam, and floor events as a team.
“It was amazing to take home another state title and keep up the tradition this year,” said senior Stefani Taschner. “It was so well-deserved; we worked so hard working to this meet, and we fought for every score we got. For me, it was amazing to have a career-high [for all-around] at a state meet, where scores have been known to be a little tighter and still come out on top.”
Looking at the solo achievements of Kelly Smith’s squad, Taschner took home three state championships in the vault, on the beam, and with the floor exercises. In the state-title victory, Hand took the crown by about a comfortable 10 points over second-place Wilton (132.55).
“This means that all of our hard work and dedication paid off, and it’s another step that gets us closer to hopefully qualifying for the New England Championship as a team,” said senior tri-captain Kendall Jerzyk. “I think the depth of our team is one of the reasons we are so successful. Everyone had a great meet, and I’m very proud that my performance helped us win today.”
For the vault, Hand accumulated a collective score of 36.25 with Taschner (named First Team All-State) taking the solo title on a 9.45 showing. Behind her was junior Abby McGuirk (9.1; First Team All-State), along with Jerzyk (9.05; First Team All-State), and fellow senior Maria Iennaco (8.65; Second Team and Academic All-State).
Moving to the bars, the Tigers prevailed with a 34.2 performance. Individually, McGuirk was runner-up in the competition, nailing down a 9.25. Elsewhere were teammates in Taschner (9.1), Jerzyk (8.4), and sophomore Erin Maxwell (7.45; Second Team All-State).
“Winning states has been one of our goals all season long, so coming out No. 1 today was pretty sick,” said senior tri-captain Julie Keenan. “Everyone on the team works really hard in the gym, and today it really paid off.”
On the beam, Hand’s efforts netted it a 35.025 for the win, and Taschner took home her second event on the day with a first-place tally of 9.325. Rounding out the Tigers for the beam were Jerzyk (9.05), freshman Lily Spencer (8.5), and Maxwell (8.15).
“This is really great; this is such a strong program and really has been the whole year,” said Smith, who’s Tigers also captured their sixth-straight SCC title last month with a meet-record 141.45 points. “This was a perfect cap to the year, and to have our second-highest team point total at states was great. Stefani hit a personal-best in the all-around, and Kendall hit a high 35 for it, which is where she’s been all season. She’s been consistent all year. It was a complete team effort, so not a lot of complaints.”
Heading to the floor round of competition, the Tigers prevailed with a 36.8, plus Taschner completed her trifecta with a 9.65 for tops in the event. McGuirk wasn’t too far behind (9.2), and those two were followed by Jerzyk (9.15) and Iennaco (8.8).
In that all-around, Taschner led Hand with a 37.525, followed by Jerzyk (35.65), Iennaco (35.55), Maxwell (35.5), and McGuirk (35.4).
“This one was different than last year, when we went in seeded second, but we went in first this year and had a nice buffer with our average score,” said Smith, whose team average season score was 140.140, second in the state. “We just went into this wanting to do what we’ve been doing all year. We couldn’t control what other teams did, so we just had to do what was best for us.”
Smith is assisted by coach Jessica Hoover, and the rest of Hand’s championship roster for this year includes seniors tri-captain Kendall Goodman, Ashlyn Thompson, Aimee Merkle-Scotland, Emma Mills, Sarah Klass; juniors Korinne Portley, Lauren LaChapelle; sophomores Rebecca Anderson, Nicole Farrales, Genevieve Geller, Meredith Ovian; and freshmen Noelle Bergere, Torrey Donoghue, Olivia Finke, Jacqueline Havran, Samantha Mayhew, and Abigail Walton.
The next step for the Tigers, who were also an impressive 17-1 on the regular season, is the State Open Championship on Saturday, March 8 at New Milford. If Hand finishes as one of the top two squads out of the 12 competing, it will advance to the New England Championship on Saturday, March 15.
“At the State Open, we want to have another good score and stay around the 140-point mark,” said Smith, whose team hasn’t reached the New England Championship since 2006. “Woodstock Academy seems untouchable, but we want to be right with them.”