Schwartz takes charge for Stafford

RESTON — Colleen Schwartz wondered if she’d ever find the right words to encourage her nervous teammates Saturday morning.

She’s new to the whole leadership thing, but the Stafford High School junior was determined to come up with something special. That went without saying. Pre-meet speeches are as much a part of Indians gymnastics lore as any of their championship trophies.

Schwartz had listened to dozens of them over the past two years — letters and poems presented by respected leaders like Aimee Little and Sarah Brown.

On Saturday, it was her turn and she wanted to live up to the honor. With senior Jennifer Little off taking the SAT exam and senior Tiffany Kerby sidelined by a severe ankle sprain, Schwartz was the only upperclassman among four Stafford gymnasts at the season-opening South Lakes Invitational.

The other three — Allison Brooks, Angie Clements and Adrianna DeFreese — were freshmen.

“I had to give the pep talk. It was a totally different position than I’m used to,” Schwartz said. “I’m used to being the baby on the team.”

That is no longer the case. As a state meet qualifier and the defending Commonwealth District vault champion, Schwartz is unmistakably in charge — in the gym and the team huddle.

“During warmups I realized I had to keep everyone’s confidence up. I’m the only upperclassmen here. It was kind of scary,” Schwartz said. “Being it was their first meet and definitely a different atmosphere than they’re used to, I tried to keep them up. I brought a little poem about going after your dreams and crossing your bridges.”

Schwartz’s words helped ease some of the fear of competing in a varsity meet for the first time, but the biggest impression she made on the Indians’ freshmen came during the 16-team competition. Wearing a brace on the right ankle that is still recovering from a sprain about four months ago , Schwartz placed among the top-8 on two events and finished sixth in the all-around competition with a score of 35.875.

Showing no ill effects of the stress fracture in her back that gave her so much trouble a year ago, Schwartz claimed fourth place with a 9.175 on the balance beam and earned a seventh-place medal on the uneven bars with a score of 8.750.

“I had a disappointing season last year with the injury. This really boosted my confidence,” Schwartz said.

After enduring back pain last winter, Schwartz was hardly bothered by her fragile ankle.

“I twisted it on a landing on bars at the end of the summer. It’s not killing me now so I’ll try to work through it,” she said. “I’ve been going to physical therapy for it but I don’t quite want to get it checked out right now. I want to make it through the season.”

And not just because she has some seniority.

“I think we have a really good team this year,” Schwartz said.

The Indians are probably much better than their sixth-place score of 100.3 would indicate. They were missing Little, who scored a 37.325 in last year’s district meet, and Kerby, a solid all-around performer who is especially strong on vault and floor exercise.

Still, Stafford more than held its own against a field that featured nine 2002 state-meet qualifiers, including Christie Swanson who finished second in the all-around on Saturday to lead Oakton to the team title.

“This was our starter meet,” Stafford coach Shawn Smith said. “All things considered, we did very well. I feel with the experience we can only get better.”

The experience will be memorable for many reasons — most of them good, but one quite unnerving.

While freshman Angie Clements made an impressive debut with a 9.025 on vault and an all-around score of 32.825, fellow freshman Allison Brooks left the meet early after slipping off the high bar during her uneven bars routine.

“That was scary,” Schwartz said. “I was shaking. I bent down and got the shivers. I saw her crying and it tore me up.”

Brooks, a Level 8 state club champion, flew out of one of her giants and landed on her back following a 10-foot fall. Her landing was partially cushioned by a mat, but Brooks suffered minor whiplash and sat for several minutes against the wall with an ice back against the back of her head.

Brooks did not compete during Stafford’s final rotation on the balance beam, where Clements completed her day with a back-handspring series and a gainer dismount.

“It’s a whole new atmosphere for me, but I think I did pretty good,” Clements said. “I was happy I didn’t fall off the beam. I’m pretty confident now.”

She may have been speaking for the rest of her teammates as well when she said that.

“There’s nobody from our district here and nobody from our region here. There’s no way to embarrass ourselves,” Schwartz said. “It was about coming in and seeing where we are.”

And about finding out who’s in charge.

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