The way senior Hailey Dohnal recalled it, she and the Verona/Edgewood gymnastics team didn’t want to do any scoreboard watching at the Division 1 Middleton Sectional.
The Wildcat/Crusaders spent more time snacking on sweet treats than worrying about how they stacked up in a jumbled field Saturday, Feb. 29, at Middleton High School.
Verona/Edgewood finally got the news it was hoping for and gleefully hopped on to the podium after finishing second at the sectional meet with 137.300 points and qualifying for state. Madison Memorial won the sectional title with 138.375 points.
“This has been my dream since freshman year,” Dohnal said. “We told ourselves we were not going to look at scores. We just wanted to go and do our best. We proved it to ourselves and the team.”
Middleton had its streak of eight straight state appearances snapped. The Wildcat/Crusaders led the Cardinals by 1.425 points going into the final apparatus — the uneven bars.
Middleton had a couple of falls on the balance beam, but Memorial, which trailed V/E by 1.7 points before the final round, vaulted ahead of both teams by closing strong on the floor.
“It’s so unexpected,” Verona/Edgewood coach Rachael Hauser said of earning a state berth. “I knew we had potential. There are four really good teams here. We just had to focus on us, do what we could do and see what happened.”
Dohnal won a sectional championship in the vault with a score of 9.15. She scored a 9.2 on her second attempt, but an average is taken from two judges on two attempts.
“One of the things I really focused on was landing my vault facing the table with my chest up,” she said.
Hauser said Dohnal had improved this season by performing the Tsukahara vault, which she did not do as often in previous seasons because of ankle pain. The vault features a roundoff onto the table and then a back tuck dismount. It is named after Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara.
“Last year, she didn’t start doing it until the end of the year,” Hauser said. “She’s getting more confident with it.”
Dohnal and freshman Ella Crowley also qualified for state in the all-around competition. Dohnal finished fourth at the sectional (35.20) and Crowley took fifth (34.625). The top five finishers on each apparatus qualified for state.
“I was really surprised, but it feels really good to make it all-around,” Crowley said. “I was hoping to make it to state in one or two events. I wasn’t really setting my eyes on the all-around. All of the hard work that our team has gone through has paid off.”
Dohnal finished second on the floor (9.225) and tied Watertown’s Meghan Hurtgen for third on the balance beam (8.85). Crowley placed fourth on the vault with a season-high 8.950, sixth on the floor (8.950), ninth on the balance beam (8.575) and tied Middleton’s Lucy Hellenbrand for 14th on the uneven bars (8.15).
Sophomore Alyssa Fischer led the Wildcat/Crusaders on the uneven bars with an eighth-place finish (8.550), 0.1 points away from state qualification in the event.
The Wildcat/Crusaders placed first as a team on the floor (35.85) and vault (35.10).
Every score they turned in on the floor was 8.7 and higher. In addition to Dohnal and Crowley’s scores on the floor, sophomore Noelya Jaime Janaite scored an 8.875 and freshman Katie Ryan scored an 8.8.
On the vault, every gymnast scored an 8.1 or higher. The other scores besides Dohnal and Crowley were Ryan (8.65) and Jaime Janaite (8.35).
The WIldcat/Crusaders started on the balance beam and had no falls with their first two performers — Fischer and Jaime Janaite.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking to be the first one going, but I know I have to set the bar for my team and myself,” Fischer said. “This is the routine I have been working for all season.”
Fischer took 18th (8.15) and Jaime Janaite placed 30th (7.80).
“The girls are usually nervous starting on beam,” Hauser said. “It puts a lot of pressure on you and takes a lot of mental strength. I was really proud to see Alyssa and Noelya sticking. It sets the atmosphere for how our rotation is going to go.”
Verona/Edgewood will take three freshmen, three sophomores and the senior Dohnal to the Division 1 state meet.
The team competition is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Friday, March 6, at Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School. Dohnal and Crowley will compete in the all-around competition a day later.
“I think it’s really nice to get these girls to state so they can get that experience,” Hauser said. “They don’t know what to expect going into it and hopefully we can do a repeat next year.”
Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall is seeking its fifth straight state championship. The co-op has won eight championships, the second-most in state history behind Whitefish Bay’s 10 titles.
Marshfield’s Grace Holland is the returning champion in the all-around competition (37.267) and the vault (9.567).
Dohnal is making her second trip to state after finishing 25th in the vault last year (8.51). Other contenders for the vault title are Nicolet’s Kynnedi Malone (fourth last year) and Menomonee Falls/Germantown’s Meghan Todd (sixth last year).
“There are no expectations,” Hauser said. “We are just going to go and enjoy the experience. They earned it.”
Homestead’s Taylor Raskin is the defending champion on the uneven bars. Other contenders in the event are Franklin/Muskego/Oak Creek/Whitnall’s Izzy Wong (third last year) and Holland fourth (last year).
Five of the top six in last season’s floor competition are returners. Hartford’s Emily Perkowski is seeking a second straight title after scoring a 9.4 last year.
The other top contenders on the floor are Kenosha Tremper/Indian Trail/Bradford/Westosha Central’s Maggie Losch (third last year) La Crosse Logan/Central’s Caelen Lansing (fourth), Waukesha West/North/South/Catholic Memorial’s Gracie Moran (fifth) and Holland (sixth).