Indians win a thriller

MANASSAS It had been nine months since Tricia Smith attempted a front toss on the balance beam so the Gar-Field senior was understandably apprehensive about getting through her routine Wednesday night.

Though it is her best — and favorite — event, there is something petrifying about the blind flip that is the highlight of Smith’s performance.

More daring than the difficult back handspring flight series that is also essential to her all-around score, the front toss is Smith’s signature skill.

That’s why she embraces it and fears it with equal measure.

“It’s a front toss but I call it a suicide because it’s scary,” Smith said. “I was really nervous about beam tonight because I hadn’t done it since last season.”

As it turned out, Smith had nothing to fear. She landed the front toss without the slightest bobble to earn her first 9.0 mark of the season as Gar-Field opened the season with a thrilling 128.4-126.3 victory over Cardinal District opponent Forest Park.

With the exception of a fall on her toe-front dismount off the uneven bars, Smith was nearly flawless despite her lengthy layoff from gymnastics. She finished second on the beam, scored a 9.1 to take second on vault and wound up edging Forest Park’s talented sophomore Valerie Ierley by one-tenth of a point, 34.9-34.8, in the all-around competition.

Ierley, who hit a punch-front mount to win the balance beam with a score of 9.4, put together the best all-around performance of her varsity career. She tied Gar-Field’s Megan Sullivan for first place on floor exercise with a score of 8.7 and was fourth on vault to help the Bruins set a school scoring record.

“We can’t go anywhere but up,” Forest Park coach Cris Rhynedance said. “We wanted to find out if we could be competitive and hold our own. We showed that we can.”

While Osbourn Park spent the evening displaying regional-qualifying level routines in a 135.4-79.7 victory over Hylton, the Bruins and Indians discovered that they also have plenty of postseason potential.

Freshman Nicole Blades, a level 8 gymnast, scored a 9.3 to win the vault and tied Gar-Field’s Tracy Cloninger for third in the all-around with a 34.0 in her high school debut. Jessica Kuschel continued her comeback from a knee injury with a third place performance on balance beam– her only event — and the Bruins witnessed glimpses of promise from freshman Allison Anoll and junior Meredith Picard.

Forest Park’s depth nearly overcame an impressive opening night performance from Gar-Field. The Indians, who never scored higher than a 123.35 last season, had the look of a potential regional qualifier with Megan Sullivan scoring a 33.6 in the all-around and Cloninger finishing first on the uneven bars (9.2) and third on vault (9.0).

Gar-Field led the entire night, though a 28.9 team score on the uneven bars nearly allowed the Bruins to come back. The opening night triumph ultimately came down to the performance of junior Ashley Lienau, who competed in three events in her first varsity meet.

“I’m so proud of Ashley,” Smith said. “This was her first meet in years and she was awesome. Once she gets used to it she’s going to be a strong fourth gymnast.”

Lienau tied Smith for third place on floor exercise and also contributed an 8.1 vault for the Indians.

“I’m really excited about the season,” Smith said. “This is our first meet. We’ll improve as the year goes on.”

Osbourn Park shared Gar-Field’s excitement only for a different reason. While the Indians were giddy to discover they will contend for a regional berth, the Yellow Jackets found out they could have the talent to reach the state meet.

Having already eclipsed their highest team score from last season, the Yellow Jackets dominated on vault and balance beam. Stevison, the reigning Cardinal District all-around champion, accounted for the majority of OP’s final total.

She punctuated a meet-high 9.5 performance on the uneven bars by executing a perfect toe-front dismount and also earned the highest score of the night on vault. After delivering an exceptional pike Tsukahara on her first attempt, Stevison spun into a Phelps on her second vault and wound up with a score of 9.4.

Stevison also won the floor exercise with a 9.3 and the balance beam despite a fall on a front toss that lowered her score from a 9.3 to an 8.8.

Junior teammate Ashley Keller claimed second place in the all-around with a 33.2, Devon Alston was third (32.8) and freshman Beth Ploger took fourth place with a 32.4 in her first varsity meet.

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