MANASSAS — Rebecca Ruppert’s return to high school gymnastics began exactly where it should have Thursday night: with a first-place vault.
Competing in a varsity meet for the first time since the 2000 state championships, Ruppert performed as if she’d never left as the Woodbridge Vikings opened the season with a 133.4-130.6 victory at Stonewall Jackson.
“I was a little nervous today,” said Ruppert, a two-time all-state performer who took a one-year hiatus from varsity gymnastics following her sophomore season.
“I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but I guess I’m looking at it as going out and having fun,” she said. “It’s senior year. I figured I’d go out with a bang or at least try to.”
Ruppert’s comeback — and Woodbridge’s season — started with a bang. The Vikings’ top all-arounder received a rousing ovation and the highest score of the meet with a 9.5 for her high-flying handspring-front tuck vault.
“It’s nice to have the crowd behind you,” Ruppert said. “Everyone was cheering. It was great.”
There were plenty more cheers to go around for Ruppert and the Vikings, who are seeking their fourth consecutive state tournament appearance this winter.
Ruppert won three individual events — vault, uneven bars and balance beam — and the all-around competition with a score of 36.6. Senior Denise Flowers, who has arthritis and three bulging disks in her back, won the floor exercise (9.0) and finished second in the all-around while junior Alicea Hall, limited to just two events because of turf toe, placed second on balance beam and fifth on the uneven bars.
“It’s good for a first meet,” said Vikings senior Jana Hester, who scored a 31.0 in the all-around behind an 8.4 on vault and a fifth place finish on the beam. “We’re happy with it. We can only get better.”
Stonewall’s gymnasts had a similar reaction following their debut performance. Despite a tough night on beam, the Raiders claimed four of the meet’s top six all-around scores and surpassed the 130-point mark for the first time since the 1999 Northwest Region meet.
“That’s the highest we’ve scored in a long time,” said Stonewall Jackson coach Karen Lutman. “We still have a lot of work to do, but it’s going to be interesting. The potential is definitely there.”
Senior Adriana Harvey was third overall with a score of 33.5 and junior Laura Hancock’s fourth place score of 33.2 was highlighted by a 9.1 on the uneven bars. Raiders freshman Carol Reed, who finished second on vault with a 9.0 and placed in three events overall, tied sophomore Ann Itnyre for fifth place in the all-around with a 31.8.
The night’s best routines, however, belonged to Flowers and Ruppert.
Flowers, who has competed with back pain most of her career, performed on beam for the first time in 11 months and won the floor exercise with a roundoff-back handspring, layout-halftwist tumbling series.
“I’ve spent my life in the gym. It’s what I love doing,” said Flowers, who scored a 34.0 in the all-around. “I’ve only done a couple of full practices without having to stop to ice my back, but the pain is worth it. I want to help the team get to states.”
Ruppert is back for the same reason. She finished second in the state on vault as a freshman and was fourth her sophomore year.
After spending the past year developing level 10 skills with her club team, Ruppert unveiled a few on Thursday, including a front flyaway dismount on the uneven bars and a back handspring-back tuck flight series on the balance beam.
“I’ve added a lot to my routines from club and those are some of the easier ones for me,” said Ruppert, who also landed a punch front tuck on the beam. “It went well thankfully.
“I’m looking forward to the season very much,” she said. “We have a really nice group of girls and we’re having fun.”