A big Stack of enthusiasm

MANASSAS — Erin Stack sat on the gymnasium floor at Colonial Forge High School last January, surrounded by balloons, stuffed animals and her giddy future teammates.

She didn’t perform a single routine or win a single medal. Stack just sat there all day — laughing, smiling and wishing she was old enough to wear one of those burgundy and white Stonewall Jackson warmups.

Stack wasn’t competing that day because she was still in eighth grade, but the tiny brunette gymnast was clearly part of the inspiration behind Stonewall’s dazzling performance at the Winterfest Invitational.

The Raiders were so excited about Stack’s presence that they spent half the meet trying to impress her. They introduced her to everyone they knew, showed off their best routines and hoped that by the end of the afternoon, Stack would want to be a part of all the excitement too.

Not that Stack really needed that much coaxing. A decorated club performer, she accepted an invitation to go to the meet because she was already looking forward to competing at the high school level. Watching the Raiders in action only increased her desire.

“They looked like they were having a lot of fun,” Stack said. “It was exciting. Once I went there I wanted to do it even more. When I got to high school I was looking forward to when gymnastics started. It was tough to wait.”

She doesn’t have to wait much longer. The defending Cedar Run District champion Raiders open the season tonight at home against Woodbridge and Stack will be part of an acclaimed all-around rotation that also features district all-around champion Laura Hancock, junior Ann Itnyre and sophomores Carol Reed and Kelly Morris.

“We can pick up right where we left off last year with the talent she brings to the squad,” Stonewall coach Karen Lutman said. “She’s really a joy to watch.”

Especially on the floor exercise — Stack’s best event — and balance beam — her favorite. She recently added a layout-punch front combination to her floor routine and an aerial on beam.

Stack is also working on a new 1 1/2 twist vault and a double back dismount on the uneven bars — skills she hopes to introduce prior to the district meet.

“I think I’m good, I guess. I don’t really know,” she said. “I need a little more work on some things. It takes a lot of time and drills.”

If there’s one thing Stack has on her side, it’s time. A level 9 performer at GMS in Manassas, she begins her high school career with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a freshman, the poised confidence of a state club champion and an eagerness to help the Raiders win.

“We’re going to have a lot of fun. Our team is really good,” said Stack, who practices four days each week and GMS and three at Stonewall. “Some meets here I won’t be able to do because it interferes with club. I’m kind of bummed out about that. I want to be there for my team.

“I want to have fun and I really want to go to states,” she said. “Hopefully, we can all get there.”

Qualifying for the Group AAA state meet is certainly a realistic goal — for Stack and Stonewall Jackson. With only two teams in the Cedar Run District, the Raiders are already assured a spot in the six-team Northwest Region Tournament, where they finished third last year.

Stack’s arrival couldn’t have been timed better. She is coming off one of her best club seasons — one that included a state floor exercise championship and a silver medal in the all-around.

“I was doing really well in Level 8 and I was looking forward to going to Level 9,” she said. “I might be a Level 9 for a couple more years. Level 10 will probably be a long way away, but I’m going to go for it.”

Stack has already come a very long way in gymnastics.

After deciding nearly a decade ago that ballet wasn’t her thing, Stack took her first gymnastics class at Karons. She switched to GMS when she was 6 and quickly advanced through four levels of club competition. Stack won an all-around state championship three years ago in Level 7 and was part of the Virginia Level 8 team that captured a gold medal at the regional championships last winter.

She’s become so proficient at difficult skills like a handspring-full twist vault that it’s hard to imagine a time when Stack’s proudest moment was learning to do a handstand.

“I used to be really bad at handstands. We’d have little handstand competitions at the end of practice and I’d always be the first one out. It made me really sad,” Stack said. “My dad helped me, working against the wall and stuff. Now I can hold it really long.”

Handstands aren’t the only thing she excels at now. Stack begins her balance beam routine with a shoulder roll mount and just recently added a straddle back release move to her uneven bars routine.

“There’s a lot of things that scare me still,” she said. “Bars is the scariest for me, then beam.”

Stack’s fears, however, have never outweighed her love of gymnastics. Not even now, as she explores a whole new level of competition as a high school gymnast.

“I don’t think I’ll be nervous since I’ve been to a lot of big meets at club,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the first meet, seeing how everyone else is and what meets are like at other schools.”

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