Keller Citizen

U.S. Gold gymnasts excel at regional championship, advance to nationals

On the website for Roanoke’s U.S. Gold Gymnastics, the team motto stands out in bold: “The most important part of my gymnastics is my team and my teammates. What I do, I do for them ... We are a team of one!” This is an important philosophy for a sport that involves hours of weekly training and focus, and ultimately results in individual responsibility and competition.

Five U.S. Gold gymnasts, from the optionals levels nine and ten, had the opportunity to showcase their individual skills and teamwork together after scoring high enough at the state tournament in March. This week, they advanced to compete in the USAG Region Three championship in Allen.

Mackenzie Balderas of Haslet and Aleah Turon, Kendall Billstone and Alex Browder, all of Keller, advanced to regionals for level nine, and Mckenna Burnside of Keller advanced from level 10. Kendall Billstone did not compete at the regional championship due to an injury.

To make it to the state meet and beyond to regionals takes weeks of hard work.

“This is a huge commitment on these gymnasts and their families,” said Girls Team Director Rebekah Lapio. “They are here five days a week practicing, choosing to be here instead of seeing their friends or participating in school sports or activities. If they are here, they are pretty dedicated.”

Friday night, Burnside earned first place in vault, fourth place on floor and eighth place all-around for level 10. Her performance qualified her to compete at the Junior Olympic Nationals.

“Mckenna is the team co-captain and she is a perfectionist,” said Lapio. “She started a new vault in February and is doing great at it.”

In Saturday’s level nine regional competition, Turon placed seventh in vault.

“This is Aleah’s first year in level nine but she went to regionals last year in level eight,” Lapio said. “She is very powerful and strong.”

Balderas and Browder both competed on Sunday. Balderas placed tenth on beam.

“Mackenzie is in her first year on level nine,” said Lapio. “She is flexible and excels in artistry and dance.”

Browder placed third on vault, ninth on beam and sixth on floor, advancing her to to the Western Nationals.

“Alex has a lot of natural talent,” said Lapio. “She really shines on vault and floor.”

The Level 8 Regional Championship was also held recently in Loveland, Colo. U.S. Gold had six gymnasts compete and four placed in the top ten.

Makenna Griffith placed third on vault, Hailey Bryant placed third on bars and Heidi Lin placed eighth on beam. Braeli Peters placed third on beam, seventh on floor and eighth all-around. Also competing were Chelsea Murphy and Julie Bouton.

The culture of U.S. Gold is obviously creating successful gymnasts, but Lapio said that they are focused more on building camaraderie.

“We are really big on being one team. They may compete as individuals, but we want them to really focus on being a team and supporting their teammates,” she said. “Before meets, all of the girls write notes to each other and make little gifts and we make up encouragement bags. The coaches all write a note to each girl and they can read the notes on the way to the meet.”

The Western National Championships will be in Boise, Idaho, on May 2-4 and Junior Olympic National Championships will be in Jackson, Miss., on May 7-11.