A perfect finish for Stevison

VIRGINIA BEACH – Kelly Stevison waited two years for a chance to perform a Phelps vault at the Group AAA state meet. When the day finally arrived, the Osbourn Park senior only got to do it once.

That was enough.

The most talented gymnast to ever wear a sparkling blue Yellow Jackets leotard is now the best vaulter in state meet history. After missing out on last year’s competition because of a broken bone in her right foot, Stevison scored a perfect 10 in her only attempt Saturday afternoon at Salem High School.

“It was just beautiful. I hope that everybody saw it,” Osbourn Park coach Monica Brown said. “If you didn’t see it you might not see anything that beautiful again.

“She’s waited and worked so hard,” Brown continued. “She just seized the moment. That’s what Kelly Stevison does. She’s not just a state champion, she’s the perfect state champion.”

More than 200 gymnasts have been awarded gold medals since the Virginia High School League hosted its first state competition in 1969. Until Saturday, not one had ever earned a 10. When her score was posted on the scoreboard at the end of the second rotation, Stevison was greeted with a standing ovation.

All five judges – Debbie Turlip, Gerry Royals, Anne Melton, Sue Evans and superior judge Pam Moody – awarded Stevison with a perfect mark. They even gave her the scorecard as a keepsake.

“It’s not something you think about much,” Stevison said, of her groundbreaking achievement. “I had a plan for vault. I was rooting for a 9.85 because I thought I could place with that. All I really wanted was top three.”

That seemed like a reasonable goal based on her success this season. Only three other gymnasts – Kara Wright of First Colonial, Jeenie Shank of Lake Braddock and Shannon Cain from Loudoun Valley — performed vaults that matched the difficulty of Stevison’s Phelps.

Wright was the favorite when the meet began. She’d scored a 10 in last week’s Eastern Region meet and when she stood up a front handspring, double front tuck vault, Stevison realized it would take the best vault of her life to finish first.

That’s exactly what happened.

Stevison was the 16th of 40 gymnasts to compete on the vault but the competition was over after just two rotations. She spun out of a side aerial into a tuck and touched down without even the slightest bobble.

“I knew it was a pretty good sign when I looked over and saw one of the judges with her jaw dropped to the floor,” OP assistant coach Adam Cloninger said.

While the judging panel needed just a second or two to grade her effort, Stevison didn’t even realize what she’d done. She was walking back down the runway to get ready for her second attempt when Cloninger told her she could sit down.

“Coach Adam was smiling and bouncing up and down. He just said ‘you don’t need to go again, you’re fine,'” Stevison said. “I was like, ‘OK.'”

So she pulled on a pair of sweatpants and swarmed by a group hug from the rest of the Northwest Region’s gymnasts.

“I missed not having the whole team down there so having the whole region was encouraging,” Stevison said. “They were so nice and excited for me.”

Stafford’s girls were especially supportive. A bond between the two programs developed last week at the regional meet and it continued to blossom over the weekend. One of the day’s nicest gestures came from Indians coach Shawn Smith, who offered Stevison everything she had in her pant’s pocket if she stood up her vault.

It turns out that a perfect 10 is worth just over a dollar in loose change.

With that, it didn’t matter what else Stevison accomplished. She surpassed all of her expectations when she became the first Prince William County gymnast to win a state gold medal since Stonewall Jackson’s Michelle Ritenour in 1982.

“After vault I was like, wait, I still have two more routines to do,” Stevison said.

It turned out that Stevison was just getting started. After leading Osbourn Park to a sixth-place finish in Friday’s team competition, she put together the best all-around performance of any gymnast in the Northwest Region.

Stevison earned all-state honors with an eighth place finish on the uneven bars (9.575), tied Edison’s Jesse Wargo for 12th on floor exercise (9.525) and finished a four-year career by scoring a 9.0 on the balance beam.

Her all-around score of 38.1 wasn’t a career best, but it left Stevison in pretty good company – and tied for fourth place — on Saturday.

Wright almost established a new record in the state all-around competition. She won individual balance beam (9.825) and floor exercise titles (9.85) on her way to a combined score of 39.325 – just missing the record of 39.37 set by Edison’s Michelle Pearson in 2000.

Shank, who scored 9.8s on vault and uneven bars, was second overall with a score of 38.6, while Princess Anne junior Kelly Sievert finished third with an overall score of 38.275. Stevison and Lindsey Carey of Western Branch shared fourth place. Hickory’s Shane Steen took sixth place, Jennifer Meyers of Princess Anne was seventh and Robinson’s Kaitlin Hoey eighth.

“I’m so excited, but I’m a little embarrassed,” Stevison said. “It seems so weird. You watch the beach girls and they’re so good. You wonder how can I be in competition with them. This is more than I ever hoped or asked for.”

The all-around competition took place without two of the state’s top gymnasts: Princess Anne’s Amanda Candler and Christie Swanson of Oakton. Candler suffered a knee injury on Friday while helping the Cavaliers capture their third straight state championship. Swanson competed with her teammates on Friday as Oakton placed fourth, but withdrew from Saturday’s meet after coming down with the flu.

Still, it was a formidable field — Stafford freshman Allison Brooks included. Brooks (36.525) placed 13th overall in her first state meet appearance and received all-state recognition by tying Sievert for sixth place on vault.

Brooks scored a 9.50 on her pike Tsukakara vault, a 9.25 on floor and a 9.1 on the balance beam. Senior teammate Jennifer Little was 19th overall with a score of 35.475 and Woodbridge freshman Rosanna Decoud finished 21st in her state debut with a score of 35.050.

The medals podium wound up being a popular place for Northwest Region gymnasts as Brooke Point’s Becca Howard and Colonial Forge freshman Rachel Gentry earned all-state honors by sharing fifth place on the balance beam.

Gentry landed a pair of side aerials and Howard completed a back tuck en route to matching marks of 9.650.

The fifth-place finish was especially rewarding to Howard, who just missed out on an all-state medal last year.

“I was hoping I’d get in the top 10 instead of 11th,” Howard said. “We kept track of all the scores. I figured I had a chance if I stayed on. My back tuck is kind of scary. I was nervous about that.”

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