STAFFORD — The queen finally has her crown.
And, it’s a perfect fit.
A night filled with pageantry and splendor for the Osbourn Park gymnastics team ended with the coronation of senior Kelly Stevison as Northwest Region all-around champion.
“This is what I’ve been looking forward to all year,” Stevison said, following the most rewarding performance of her high school career Tuesday night. “I had high hopes for regionals last year.”
Ah, last year. That’s still a source of major disappointment for the best gymnast in Yellow Jackets history. Stevison had been poised to take the throne last winter — or at least share it with Stafford’s Jennifer Little and Woodbridge’s Rebecca Ruppert — until she broke a bone in her right foot just days before the regional meet.
She competed anyway and somehow qualified for state in three events. But even with that heroic effort, Stevison never truly knew where she stood among the region’s elite performers until Tuesday night when she ruled the kingdom with three first-place routines and a career-best score of 38.325.
“I tried not to watch Kelly Stevison because I knew it would make me really nervous,” Stafford freshman Allison Brooks said. “But I watched her anyway and I got really nervous.”
Before long, everyone was watching Stevison. It was impossible not to.
Even without the eye-popping front punch mount that she scraped on the balance beam, Stevison was hypnotic in her mastery of bonus high-superior skills. She landed a front tuck aerial on the balance beam and shared first place on that event with a score of 9.625. She also captured the floor exercise title with a 9.525.
The vault, however, is where Stevison really shines — like a diamond tiara. Once known as “Little Miss Tsuk” for her proficiency with the Tsukahara vault, Stevison is now being talked about as a state contender with the Phelps.
Her 9.7 score was the highest mark of the regional meet and it went a long way toward helping Osbourn Park clinch its first state berth since 1985. The Yellow Jackets accomplished that feat by finishing second in the six-team competition with 145.175 points.
Sophomore Beth Ploger scored a 36.0 — the second-best four-event performance of her career — to finish in eighth place, junior Devon Alston earned her personal best score with a 35.95 and senior Ashley Keller’s season-best 9.0 on balance beam was the highlight of a 34.975 all-around effort.
“We’re all really excited. It’s Ashley and Kelly’s senior year and we’re going to state as a team,” Alston said. “That hasn’t happened in a long time.”
The Yellow Jackets won a state title 18 years ago, when three individual scores were used to determine champions. On Friday, they will join regional champion Stafford in the team portion of the two-day state meet at Salem High School in Virginia Beach.
Stafford won its seventh regional title in eight years with a score of 145.675, but the outcome wasn’t decided until the final event of the night. Osbourn Park’s goal for the night was to defeat Cedar Run District rival Stonewall Jackson. The Yellow Jackets figured if they could do that, they’d qualify for state.
The notion of competing with Stafford didn’t occur to them until very late in the meet — after they’d all stayed on the beam and held their own on floor exercise.
“It’s exciting to know we can compete with Stafford,” Alston said.
Almost as exciting as conquering the beam.
“No falls,” Ploger said. “That was really exciting. We realized after Kelly went that we didn’t have any falls. That never happens.”
The Yellow Jackets were full of improbable accomplishments on Tuesday. Even without star sophomore Sally May, who had a club commitment, Osbourn Park found a way to snatch a state berth away Stonewall Jackson.
The Raiders, behind freshman Erin Stack’s fourth-place all-around performance (36.5) and other state-qualifying routines by Carol Reed and Laura Hancock, finished third for the second straight year with a score of 142.575.
Gar-Field’s Megan Sullivan and beam co-champion Tracy Cloninger each advanced to Saturday’s individual state meet, along with Forest Park junior Valerie Ierley and Woodbridge freshman Rosanna Decoud, who will compete as an all-arounder after scoring a personal-best 36.45 on Tuesday.
Colonial Forge teammates Rachel Gentry and Megan Murray also qualified for state. So did Brooke Point’s Elsie Oldaker and Becca Howard, who tied Cloninger and Stevison for first place on the balance beam.
For the Yellow Jackets, the regional meet was all about team accomplishments, which is why Stevison started her first event with a springboard leap onto the beam rather than the punch front aerial.
“We talked about it last week. It had been kind of inconsistent so I took it out,” Stevison said. “It wasn’t just for all-around. It was for the team.
“Starting on beam was rough but it was good to get it over with,” she said. “When everyone stuck it, that took some of the pressure off our shoulders.”
OP’s 36.475 effort on beam had an uplifting effect on the whole team. That wound up being the Yellow Jackets’ third-best event. They finished with a 36.6 on the uneven bars and a 36.675 on vault.
“We knew after the second rotation we had a pretty good lead [over Stonewall Jackson],” Ploger said, “We just had to be consistent the rest of the way.”
Alston helped the Yellow Jackets achieve that goal. She earned her best scores of the season on vault (9.175), floor exercise (9.0) and uneven bars (8.975).
“I warmed up really well today and when I stayed on beam I thought, OK,” Alston said. “The 9.0 on floor was a real confidence booster, too.”
Alston was shooting for a 35.0 overall. Like the rest of her teammates, she outdid herself.
“We had to pull everything we had out of ourselves to get the scores that Sally would have gotten,” Ploger said. “It’s amazing though. It’s so rewarding that we were so close to Stafford.”