Gar-Field surprise Cardinal champions

WOODBRIDGE — Gar-Field’s gymnasts sat together on the hardwood floor at Woodbridge High School Saturday afternoon completely convinced that a record-setting effort had still left them short of their ultimate goal.

They’d done the math and the numbers all added up to second place.

As far as the Indians knew, the host and rival Vikings were about to receive another Cardinal District championship trophy.

That would have been just fine, except for one thing: the Indians felt they’d performed well enough to win.

“I was sitting there crying my eyes out,” senior Tricia Smith said.

Nearly a half hour later, Smith was still fighting back tears, only this time for a different reason.

As it turned out, Gar-Field’s intuition was better than its math. Junior Ashley Lienau set one of six meet records with a first-place score of 9.65 on the floor exercise and sophomore Tracy Cloninger established a new standard of excellence on the balance beam with a 9.6 championship routine as the Indians reclaimed the Cardinal District title with a 141.25-140.325 victory over Woodbridge.

“It was so surprising. After every event we totaled our score and compared it to Woodbridge,” Cloninger said. “We thought we’d lost by three-tenths of a point. We were totally shocked to have won.”

“Every one of our faces lit up and started glowing,” junior Megan Sullivan said. “It’s so exciting just to be representing our school like this.”

The Indians and Vikings each advanced to next Saturday’s Northwest Region Meet, but for the first time in four years Woodbridge will be attending as a runner-up despite senior Rebecca Ruppert’s record-breaking all-around performance.

Ruppert, who missed nearly six weeks because of a broken pinkie toe, won individual championships on the vault (9.85) and uneven bars (9.45) — setting new meet records in each event. Her front handspring-front tuck vault was the highest scoring performance of the day and the highlight of a meet-record 37.375 all-around effort.

“I’m just happy to be out here competing again,” she said. “I hate being on the sideline.”

The vault title was the third of Ruppert’s high school career and it nearly catapulted the Vikings to victory. Their three-year reign ended with a season-best team score and career-high all-around outings from senior Jana Hester (34.1) and junior Alicea Hall (34.275).

“Jana and Alicea were unbelievable,” Ruppert said. “That’s so exciting. We did really well as a team. We really came together.”

So did the Indians, who claimed three of the meet’s top five all-around spots — behind Ruppert and Hylton freshman Elisa Rhynedance (36.9).

Cloninger (35.9), Smith (35.8) and Sullivan (35.7) were nearly mirror images of each other, while Lienau — who came out of retirement to become the Indians’ most valuable gymnast — scored a personal-best 34.15 in the all-around.

“Each meet our scores got higher and higher and I started to think we had a chance at this,” Smith said. “We just had to have an on meet.”

It happened on Saturday when Gar-Field broke the team scoring record of 138.75 that Woodbridge set two years ago.

“This week we practiced a little bit longer. Everybody pretty much refused to leave the gym,” Cloninger said. “We knew it was all up to us.”

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