Most teams would be content with winning one championship in a week. Fortunately, the Hand gymnastics’ squad isn’t most teams. Following winning their fifth-straight SCC crown on Feb. 18, the Tigers immediately set out on their next mission in capturing their first Class M State title since 2007.
Much like the rest of the season prior, it was mission accomplished, as Hand collected the state title on Feb. 23 at Pomperaug with a score of 139.275, which narrowly bested second-place Wilton (135.925). The state crown is the Tigers’ 13th state title in the sport of gymnastics-the most by any program in the history of Hand athletics.
“Hand is known across the state for having one of the most successful athletic programs, so to be now known as the one with the most, it’s incredible,” said Coach Kelly Smith, whose team also heads into the state open on Mar. 1 at New Milford seeded second. “We are one of the lesser-known sports in the state as well, but the girls have worked so hard and are deserving of the honor.”
Following the champion Tigers and Wilton were Farmington (133.925), Conard (133.665), Fairfield Warde (128.9), New Milford (125.550), Darien (123.050), and host Pomperaug (117.375). Hand also made it a clean sweep in the events, taking first in all four contests.
“We had some of our best scores, especially on the bars and beam, which showed how bad we wanted to win,” said Jerzyk. “Everyone did their absolute best when it really mattered. It is an honor to be a part of the legacy that is Hand gymnastics.”
Hand’s highest-scoring contest of the day was the beam, earning a team mark of 35.775, led by event-winner Jerzyk (9.25), Maxwell (9.05), Anderson (8.850), and junior Stefani Taschner (8.625).
“Going into any championship meet, you worry about the beam,” remarked Smith. “It’s only four inches, and it is so easy to fall off of, so we did a lot of numbers leading up to states to get our confidence good before it.”
The Tigers tallied a total of 35.175 for the vault, led by Stefani Taschner, winning the event with a 9.3, freshman Erin Maxwell (8.7), junior captain Kendall Jerzyk (8.6), and junior Ashlyn Thompson (8.575).
Next were the bars, which saw the Tigers score an even 34 points. The mark of 34 was achieved thanks to Taschner (8.65), Maxwell (8.225), and Jerzyk (9.175), who beat out Farmington’s Gabriella Lester by a mere 0.25-point margin (9.150) for another solo title on the day. Freshman Becca Anderson also scored a 7.95 in this event. On the floor, Hand sported a 34.325 thanks to Jerzyk (9.125), junior Maria Iennaco (8.55), Maxwell (8.45), and Taschner (8.2).
“We worked extremely hard for this win, and we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but it was attainable,” said Taschner. “Going in, Coach Smith assured us that we were physically and mentally prepared, and that no matter what happened individually, each and every one of us had our whole team behind us to back each other up. It was amazing to have all that hard work put us on top.”
With a total tally of 36.15, Jerzyk earned the highest all-around mark for the Class M winners. She was followed by Taschner (34.775) and Maxwell (34.425).
“Kendall had her highest all-around score of the season, and she could not have picked a better day for it,” said Smith. “She stepped up as a true leader and looked like she had no nerves.”
Finishing behind the Tigers in the six-team competition earlier in the week at the SCC meet were host Law (124.5), Foran (120.05), North Haven (105.7), Hamden (73.75), and Branford (58.05). The Tigers saw two event winners in Jerzyk on floor (9.15) and Taschner on bars (9.1).
Taschner and Jerzyk were also named to the All-SCC Team, in addition to fellow Tigers Maxwell and Anderson with Iennaco, and senior captain Amanda Rubano. For the Tigers, the only inspiration they needed was looking at their own legacy and continuing it.
“If anyone knows about our team, they know that winning SCCs is a tradition, and we believe that old habits die hard,” remarked Rubano. “It’s something that we know going into the competition and something we have to live up to. The history was our pep talk on the way to this meet, as we pass around the trophy that has Hand’s name on it 16 times.”
For the vault, a trio of Tigers make their marks with Taschner (4th, 8.8), Jerzyk (5th, 8.4), and Maxwell (6th, 8.3) Taschner finished only 0.2 points shy of first.
As Jerzyk captured the conference’s floor crown, she was accompanied by teammates not too far behind in their own achievements. Taschner was right behind her in the second spot with a score of 9.1.
While no one on the beam could catch Shelton’s Meg French, who set an SCC record for the event with a 9.45, several Tigers were right on her heels for this event. Maxwell (8.85) and Rubano (8.8) finished third and fourth, respectively.
Even though Taschner did not defend her SCC vault championship of a year ago, she compensated by taking the bars event. For the all-around, she came very close to snatching the title away with a 35.4 score, 0.2 points behind first.
Along with captains in Jerzyk (First Team All-State) and Rubano (Second Team All-State), Hand’s participants in another title run were juniors Iennaco (Second Team All-State), Kendall Goodman, Julie Keenan, Sarah Klass, Aimee Merkle-Scotlan, Taschner (First Team All-State), and Ashlyn Thompson; sophomores Lauren LaChapelle, Abby McGuirk (First Team All-State), and Korrine Portley, along with freshmen Tess Smith, Anderson (Second Team All-State) , Portia Blanchard, Patty Chalmers, Nicole Farrales, Genevieve Geller, Alicia Lanzetti, Maxwell (Second Team All-State), and Meredith Ovian.