Stafford fourth at South Lakes

RESTON — All Jennifer Little truly wanted Saturday afternoon was to make it through her floor exercise routine.

Stafford’s junior gymnast had been sick most of the week and endurance was her chief concern at the season-opening South Lakes Invita-tional. The shin splints that tend to flare up on occasion were bothering Little again, too, but with senior Sarah Brown limited to just one event because of an ankle injury she was determined to perform all of her tumbling passes.

“I was just trying to come in and do my best to help the team,” Little said.

At a competition that was as much about discovery as it was about achievement, Little delivered the type of performance that exemplifies Stafford’s theme for the 2001-02 campaign. On a day when the Indians clearly weren’t at full strength, they found a way to succeed.

Little not only made it though her floor routine, she sparkled — pulling off a double pirouette-one-armed back handspring combination to earn a seventh-place ribbon and a score of 9.15.

“I was excited about finishing my floor routine because I’ve had really bad shin splints and I’m not tumbling as much as I usually do,” Little said.

She was just as thrilled about her handspring-full twist vault and the shootover — a skill she acquired just nine months ago — that highlighted her fourth-place uneven bars routine. With an 8.9 on vault and a 9.325 on the uneven bars, Little led the Indians with an overall score of 36.075.

That earned her fifth place out of 94 gymnasts in the all-around competition. Junior teammate Colleen Schwartz (35.125) finished 11th as Stafford took fourth place in the 16-team meet with a score of 106.25.

“I still think we can be as good as we were last year,” said Little, after the Indians narrowly missed out on the third-place trophy. “We have girls who are really dedicated.”

With junior Tiffany Kerby competing in two events and senior Nia Bloomfield making her varsity debut in the all-around, Stafford finished barely three points behind team champion Lake Braddock and just nine-tenths of a point behind third-place Langley. The Bruins, behind all-around champion Christina Ghani, edged Potomac Falls 109.1-107.825 to claim the championship. Langley, which competed without star club gymnast Carolyn Marckesano, scored 107.15 points.

“We have to realize where we’re at, where we’re going and what we’re capable of doing,” Stafford coach Shawn Smith said. “I had girls competing for the first time ever and I don’t think they did bad at all.”

The Indians were also competing without Brown — their best gymnast — in the all-around. The two-time Northwest Region champion tore ligaments in her left ankle in September and is not expected to return to the lineup until mid-January. With her ankle heavily taped, Brown still made her presence felt on Saturday. In her only event of the day, she scored a 9.3 on the uneven bars to earn fifth place.

Kerby, who was nursing a pulled quadricep muscle, took Brown’s place on vault (8.55) and floor (7.85) while Chanelle Noel (8.3) filled in admirably on the balance beam. Bloomfield made a significant contribution as well. She scored a 9.1 on her handspring-full twist vault to earn a sixth-place ribbon.

“We have some new people and this was a big meet for them. They’ve done stuff today they can be proud of. They’re doing a great job,” Brown said. “We’re here to prove we can still be competitive in big meets. We want everyone to see we’re not done.”

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