STAFFORD — Allison Brooks won so many medals Tuesday night that she had to carry them around in both hands.
The Stafford freshman had no idea where to put them all. She figured it was a problem she could work out later.
Brooks had other things to ponder following the Indians’ championship performance at the Northwest Region Gymnastics Meet — like making travel plans for this weekend’s state competition.
“This means we get to go to a hotel,” she said after the Indians accepted the first-place trophy.
Not just any hotel, a hotel at the beach.
Brooks couldn’t believe that winning had so many perks. A trip to Virginia Beach was certainly worth the queasiness she’d felt earlier in the night — before Stafford rallied on the final event to pull out a 145.675-145.175 victory over Osbourn Park.
“The pressure gave me a really bad stomach ache. It’s like butterflies, I guess,” she said.
Neither Brooks nor her teammates let the pressure get to them. Brooks captured the region’s uneven bars title and finished third in the all-around with a score of 36.75, while senior Jennifer Little took second place overall with a four-event score of 36.975
Junior Colleen Schwartz and freshman Angie Clements tied for ninth with identical scores of 35.975 and it took every tenth to fend off the Yellow Jackets.
“They’re an amazing team,” Osbourn Park sophomore Beth Ploger said. “It makes me happy that it was so close.”
The team competition was so close between Stafford, Osbourn Park and third-place Stonewall Jackson (142.575) that the Indians didn’t keep track of the scores the way they usually do in big meets.
“We told the coaches not to tell us so we’d be surprised in the end,” Brooks said.
The Indians somehow knew that they needed to finish with tremendous efforts on floor and vault, but that turned out to be competitive instinct. It wasn’t until after Brooks and Schwartz completed tuck Tsukahara vaults to end the meet that Stafford discovered just how close the Yellow Jackets had come.
“We tried to keep it quiet,” Brooks said. “But someone told Colleen and then she told everyone.”
That may have spoiled the surprise, but not the mood.
The Indians were thrilled — not because they’d won, but because they’d had to earn it.
“In warmups we were sitting there on the floor watching everybody and we knew it was going to be a hard meet. There’s a lot of competition in the region,” Schwartz said. “We knew it was going to be close.”
Schwartz couldn’t have imagined, however, that it would all come down to her. Especially after Stafford opened the meet by scoring a 37.1 on the uneven bars — the highest event score of the evening by any team.
“After bars we were all really excited. I came out with a rip and I didn’t even realize it,” said Schwartz, revealing a button-sized hole in the palm of her left hand.
Little did she know then that Osbourn Park was about to come up with its best performance of the season. While the Indians reveled in their impressive start, the Yellow Jackets initiated their challenge with four nearly flawless routines on beam.
By the time the Indians introduced themselves to the floor exercise judges three hours later, Osbourn Park was still in contention.
Ironically, the Yellow Jackets spent most of the night worrying about whether they could outscore Cedar Run District rival Stonewall. They’d practically conceded the regional title to Stafford and were focused on earning second place.
That was the case until Ploger tabulated the event scores and discovered that her team was on pace to score its highest point total of the season.
“We were just thinking we had to beat Stonewall,” Ploger said. “But after the third event we figured out we had a chance to win.”
That’s partly because Yellow Jackets senior Kelly Stevison (38.325) won two events, shared first place on beam and topped the all-around field, but mostly because Osbourn Park also received a career-best performance from junior Devon Alston (35.95), a pair of state-qualifying routines from Ploger and a season-best 9.0 from Ashley Keller on the balance beam.
“It’s so rewarding that we were so close to Stafford,” Ploger said.
It was so close that the Yellow Jackets still had their fingers crossed with only four Stafford vaults remaining.
One by one, the Indians closed in on OP’s final team score. They needed a combined effort of 35.85 on an event that’s been a struggle for them all season — meaning that the top four scores had to average out to around a 9.0.
Tiffany Kerby went first and twisted to an 8.95. Clements followed with a score of 9.0 and then Little spun her way to a third-place score of 9.2. That left only Brooks and Schwartz — a pair of Tsukers who have battled to land the vault consistently.
Brooks is a powerful flyer who tends to over-rotate on her tuck and sore ankles have made it tough for Schwartz to stay on her feet.
On Tuesday, they picked the perfect occasion to excel. Brooks stood up the tuck Tsuk for the first time this season and finished in second place with a 9.25.
“I haven’t made that vault really ever,” Brooks said. “I was pretty scared but I landed it.”
Schwartz hadn’t done all the math, but her task came down to one thing: score at least an 8.425.
She figured if she could hit the mat feet-first that would do the trick. She was right. Schwartz fell to her knees on both landings, but her feet touched before her hands or knees and her score reflected as much.
When the 8.9 went up next to her name on the scoreboard, Stafford had five-tenths of a point to spare.
“I was nervous, but I had to do it for the team,” said Schwartz, who walked around the gym afterwards with bags of ice on both feet. “Knowing that Allison stood it up took some pressure off me.”