Northeast Tarrant

Gymnasts live up to HEB tradition, head to state

The tradition continues.

The HEB school district will once again be well-represented at the Texas High School Gymnastics Coaches Association state meet. Competition takes place Friday and Saturday at Chisholm Trail High School.

Since the beginning of the THSGCA competition in 1967, L.D. Bell has been one of the state’s dominant programs, and Trinity has also been a team to contend with. The Bell girls have won 19 team state titles and 43 individual championships, the Bell boys have 17 team titles and 77 individual, the Trinity boys have two state titles and 29 individual, and Trinity’s girls have won three individual championships.

Both programs appear ready to make a run at more hardware.

The Bell girls qualified after winning Region IV at Trinity. The Trinity girls qualified in third place, the Trinity boys finished second, and the Bell boys got in as a wild-card.

Along with placing in the top three in their respective regions, teams must also achieve a qualifying score to reach state. Two teams from other regions failed to make the qualifying score of 295 for the boys despite a top-three finish, so that enabled Bell, which scored 301.3, to sneak in.

“The whole team has been through a lot this year and came together as a team to score a lot higher than I thought they would, if you had asked me when the season started,” said Bell boys coach Sean Sims.

The Lady Raiders of Bell edged Grapevine (230.425 to 224.20), with Trinity at 218.05. Saginaw, which won boys state championships in 2012 and 2013, won the region with 338.1 points, followed by Trinity with a team-record 322.9 and Saginaw Boswell with 321.1.

In addition, Bell had the top girls all-around qualifier, Alexis Martin, one of four Lady Raiders to finish in the top eight in all-around. Joining Martin are Jordan Gray (third), Victoria Rapp (fourth) and Kyleigh Pryther (seventh).

Gray is the defending state champion in the bars. It was the first title for Bell since Brittney Herman won the beam in 2008, but Lady Raiders coach Debbie Williams said her team is well aware of the tradition and the expectations.

“Tradition is always a factor, just knowing that it can be done,” Williams said. “The biggest factor is the kids I have and their desire to be sucessful.”

The Trinity boys had two state qualifiers in all-around. Donovon Yancy placed sixth and Jason Scott tied for eighth, with Cameron Gardner as Bell’s lone qualifier.

“The team has done a great job up to this point, but we have few more goals left in our season,” said Trinity boys coach Travis Coulbourn. “We had two returning from injuries and they did a great job of fighting through even though they didn’t have as much prep as we would have liked for them to have.”

The Trinity girls qualified as a team despite not having anyone in the top eight in all-around. However, Rebecca Stricklin narrowly missed, placing ninth.

They also reached state despite battling numerous injuries and illness, said coach Rebecca Shaw.

Taylor Payne, Trinity’s top all-arounder, was out sick and did not compete at regionals. Also, freshman Halie McMillan, after standing up on her first vault, injured her knee on the second and missed the rest of the meet. This left the Lady Trojans with only four competitors on the beam and floor, yet they rose almost an entire point (.8) from their optional day at district a couple weeks earlier.

“We have struggled with injuries this year, and we are still struggling,” Shaw said. “My girls rose to the challenge again.

Now, if we can get the rest of the team healthy, we can really show the state what we are made of.”

The Bell boys, likewise, fought injuries and other factors this season. Three team members quit and another broke his arm in a motocross accident, Sims said.

Still, he was counting on Gardner to make a return to state and he came through. He finished in the top six in rings and vault last year.

“We’re hoping to better those spots,” Sims said. “We’ve made a few improvements to some of his routines, and he has a chance at placing in the top 10 on floor, parallel bars and all-around as well.”

Trinity’s last individual title was Mikea Knox in the vault in 2013, the second of back-to-back girls championships in that event. Kevin Cochran won the 2012 floor competition for the Trojans’ last boys title, and the Trinity boys last won state as a team in 2001.

The Bell boys last won an individual championship in 2010, when Elijah Holt won three (floor, parallel bars and all-around), giving him six in three years. They last won team competition in 2007.

It’s been since 2005 that the Lady Raiders won a team state championship. But Williams is growing more and more optimistic.

“They competed very well as a team (at regionals). We improved two points from district, and I can attribute that to their hard work since district,” she said.