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Trojans' Ward finishes 26th in All-Around at State Finals

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New Castle High School freshman Samantha Ward performs her Floor Exercise routine during Saturday afternoon’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
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New Castle High School freshman Samantha Ward begins her approach on Vault during Saturday afternoon’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals competition at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie. Ward had her best score of the season in Vault, a 9.400, to place 14th among 42 competitors in the event.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

MUNCIE — Reaching the state finals as a freshman in any high school sport is quite an achievement, and New Castle’s Samantha Ward enjoyed her experience at Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.

New Castle also was represented by freshman Riley E. Smith, who competed on Floor Exercise to provide a base score before the actual state finals competition began.

“I was really proud of both of our freshman girls,” New Castle Coach Tina Hittson said afterward. “For Sam to get to compete as one of the top 40 or so best girls in the state is a tremendous opportunity for her. And Riley had a 9.15 on Floor, which is an excellent base score.”

Ward provided her take on her first-ever state finals competition.

“It was frustrating at times because there are so many really good girls here,” Ward said after she had completed her day. “But this is an amazing experience and I’m really grateful I had the opportunity to be here.”

Ward got to compete in every event in the All-Around competition, and once again her top two events were Uneven Bars and Vault, her first and last events, respectively, on the day.

Ward opened her day on Bars and achieved a score of 8.700, which ranked her 27th among 40 competitors. Columbus East senior Adison Minor won the Bars event with a score of 9.675.

The next event for Ward was Balance Beam, which has been a trouble spot for many girls. Ward’s score on Beam of 7.500 placed her 43rd among the 45 competitors. Valparaiso junior Whitney McKeon and Chesterton sophomore Sophia Hunzelman tied for first place in the event with a score of 9.700.

“I got the freshman jitters when I got to Beam,” Ward explained. “I fell off once and it was just not my day for it. But hey, you just have to smile and move on to the next event.”

Coach Hittson said that focusing too much on one aspect of an event can backfire.

“Beam has been our girls’ Achilles heel for a long time,” Hittson said. “Many freshmen have the jitters when competing for the first time at state and I think Sam was focused so much on not falling off Beam that it made her a little more nervous. She’s competing mostly against juniors and seniors who have bee here two or three times before.”

In the third rotation, Ward moved to Floor Exercise and was issued a score of 8.775 for her routine, which put her 39th among the 44 competitors. Chesterton junior Jordan Bush placed first on Floor with a score of 9.825.

Ward’s highest score of the day was on her final event, Vault. Ward achieved her highest score of the season in the event with a 9.400, which placed her 14th among the 42 competitors and in the top third. Columbus East’s Minor finished first in Vault with a score of 9.725.

“I was happy with my Vault score,” Ward stated. “Bars was okay, but I messed up a little, same with Floor. Watching the other girls, you see what they are doing and try to learn from them and your own mistakes. I’m just happy I’m here.”

Totaling the scores of all four events, Ward had a 34.375 in the All-Around, which placed her 26th among the 27 gymnasts performing all four events. Chesterton’s Hunzelman placed first in the All-Around with a score of 38.425.

“I hope to be back next year,” Ward added, “and it would be awesome to bring our whole team to compete.”

Columbus North senior Claire Thompson and Columbus East’s Minor tied for second in the All-Around with 38.150 apiece, Chesterton’s Bush was fourth with 38.050, Valparasio’s McKeon fifth at 37.750, and Chesterton freshman Mia Pak sixth with 37.600.

Chesterton won the team championship with a score of 114.400. Finishing second through ninth, respectively, in the team standings were Valparaiso 113.950, Columbus North 110.400, Columbus East 109.700, Homestead 109.200, Portage 108.425, Carroll (Fort Wayne) 108.375, Fort Wayne Dwenger 107.500, and Seymour 102.625.

“This is a great experience,” Hittson said.

“We got to see and compete with some really good teams from the far north that we don’t see during the regular season. We see how good they are the difficulty of their routines. It gives us some ideas and sparks some creativity in what we may be able to try with some of our girls.”

Columbus North’s Thompson was the recipient of the Mildred M. Ball Mental Attitude Award.

“Sam had her best Vault score of the season,” Hittson added, “and we lose only one senior off this year’s team, Maddy Eastridge. This year was a learning experience for many of our girls. We plan to work hard, become more creative and add some difficulty to our routines, and come back strong next year. It would be great to have our whole team here next year because that hasn’t happened for a while at New Castle.”