Gar-Field does it again in Cardinal


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MANASSAS — Apparently, Tracy Cloninger knows how to throw a pep rally.

Here’s the secret: carry out pizza and a movie marathon.

On the eve of Gar-Field’s most important gymnastics competition of the season, Cloninger invited her teammates over for a few hours of senseless fun. The Indians had such a good time that they didn’t stop partying until they finished their best performance of the season at the Cardinal District championship meet.

Cloninger, always the gracious host, shared the pepperoni on Friday and the spotlight on Saturday as Gar-Field won the team title for the second straight season — edging Forest Park 138.35-136.825.

Competing with a broken bone in her right wrist, the Gar-Field junior captured a district vault title and placed second on the balance beam, while Indians Megan Sullivan and Ashley Lienau delivered their most dazzling routines of the winter at Stonewall Jackson High School.

Sullivan set a meet record with a first-place score of 9.725 on the balance beam and earned the highest all-around score of her career with a 36.475. She landed a front toss on beam for the first time this season and also scored a 9.3 on floor exercise to earn second place overall.

“My whole career I wanted a 36 and I never got one before. It feels really good,” said Sullivan, who finished exactly a half-point behind all-around champion Jessica Kuschel of Forest Park.

“We started with floor and I was pretty happy with that,” Sullivan added. “Vault wasn’t bad and then beam, I don’t know where that came from. I’ve never stuck my front toss before and I almost didn’t do it, but then I decided to go for it.”

That was pretty much the Indians’ motto all day. Especially on the balance beam — an event they also dominated at last year’s regional meet.

Gar-Field gymnasts had three of the top four routines on beam with Cloninger scoring a 9.625 and Lienau a 9.3.

Lienau placed seventh in the all-around competition with a score of 34.225, but she finished among the top-8 in each event and qualified as an all-arounder for next Saturday’s Northwest Region meet at Stafford.

“We thought we could do well, but I don’t know if we thought we could do this well,” Sullivan said. “We had a pep talk and it showed. We just went out there and did the best that we could.

“Until the uneven bars we had the most excellent aura ever.”

The bars were nearly the Indians’ undoing, but they built up a big enough lead over Forest Park and third-place Woodbridge through their first three rotations that they prevailed despite a team score of 30.30 on their final event.

That was possible because of a regional-qualifying vault from Trevor Stanley and decisive contributions from Han Vo and Kelly Sullivan.

Gar-Field competed with only six gymnasts, but that was enough to hold off Forest Park and Woodbridge, which scored 132.6 points.

Vikings freshman Rosanna Decoud earned a regional berth by placing fourth in the all-around with a score of 35.575. Senior Alicea Hall (34.6) took fifth place and advanced to regionals as an all-arounder by placing among the top-8 in each event and sophomore Emily Johnson advanced to regionals on the balance beam.

The all-around competition came down to three gymnasts — Kuschel, Sullivan and Forest Park’s Valerie Ierley. Barely a point separated all three, but Kuschel’s career-best 36.975 won out in the end.

After slipping on a patch of ice and hurting her shoulder on Friday, Kuschel captured the district’s top individual prize with first-place performances on the uneven bars (9.125) and floor exercise (9.55). She was second on vault (8.85) and third on the balance beam (9.45).

“I’m just happy to be here. I had a little fall on the ice,” she said, laughing. “It’s so embarrassing. I can walk on the balance beam, but not on the sidewalk.

“There are so many good gymnasts in our district. I didn’t think I’d get this far.”

The Bruins weren’t sure about their prospects as a team either after learning earlier in the week that all-arounders Elisa Rhynedance and Nicole Blade would be unable to compete because of injuries.

Ierley picked up most of the slack by giving the Bruins her best all-around performance of the season. Having recently joined the club team at Capital Gymnastics National Training Center, the Forest Park junior raised her overall score by more than two points.

She finished second in the district on floor exercise with a career-best 9.55 and earned third place in the all-around with a 35.725.

On an afternoon that they dedicated to senior Meredith Picard, the Bruins also received a tremendous boost by blossoming all-arounder Jenny Novak and qualified for regionals as a team for the first time in the school’s three-year history.

Novak, a sophomore in her first varsity season, came through with a personal-best 33.0 in the all-around and had regional-qualifying performances on the uneven bars, vault and floor exercise, while freshman Holly Bagwell placed sixth on the bars.

“The best part is we all came together,” Kuschel said. “Elisa and Nikki couldn’t compete and that was disappointing. We just had to pull together with what we had and we did it.”

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