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New Castle's Ward in gymnastics state finals

Sophomore Samantha Ward of the New Castle High School gymnastics team performs her Floor Exercise routine in front of the judges during sectional competition Feb. 23 in Connersville’s Spartan Bowl. On Saturday at Noblesville High School, Ward will be performing on Floor during her third rotation as she competes in the All-Around competition at the IHSAA gymnastics state finals.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

Sophomore Samantha Ward of the New Castle High School gymnastics team makes a return to Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals, this year at Noblesville High School.

As she did as a freshman in 2018, Ward will be performing in the All-Around competition, which includes scores on all four events of Vault, Uneven Parallel Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise.

A total of 30 girls will be competing in the All-Around competition, and Ward hopes to be one of the top six who have earned the right to stand on the podium at the conclusion of the day’s activities.

“I’m really excited to be going back to the state finals,” Ward exclaimed. “I didn’t have my best day at sectional and knew I’d have to be better at regional. Gymnastics is one of those sports that can be hit or miss. I missed at sectional, but I hit it at regional, and now I’m going to the state finals.”

New Castle Coach Tina Hittson was proud of Ward’s regional effort.

“Sam scored at regional about what she had been scoring all year,” Hittson said. “She had somewhat of a down day at sectional, but turned things around at the regional with nines on three events and an eight on Beam, and that’s what she needed to do to advance.”

The best of the best gymnasts from around the state will congregate at Noblesville for the competition, which includes nine complete teams: Columbus North, Richmond, and Columbus East from the Columbus East regional, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Homestead, and Angola from the Huntington North regional, and Chesterton, Lake Central, and Portage from the Valparaiso regional.

Last Friday night at the Columbus East regional, Ward obtained a score of 35.400 in the All-Around for fifth place. The top six from each event plus the All-Around from all three regionals advanced to the state finals.

Ward’s total score of 35.400 in the All-Around consisted of scores of 9.250 on Vault, 9.000 on Uneven Parallel Bars, 8.050 on Balance Beam, and 9.100 on Floor Exercise.

“I may add a little bit of difficulty to my Beam routine for the state finals,” Ward remarked, “but I’m not sure yet. I think I’m pretty well set in my other events, and just want to do as well in them and make them as clean as possible.”

Hittson talked a bit about changing routines late in the season.

“We are going to try to add a bit to the difficulty of Sam’s Beam routine,” Hittson noted, “but mostly in making connections with jumps. A lot of girls who score higher on Beam are doing connections with tucks or back-flips which adds to the degree of difficulty. Sometimes making a lot of changes just for the state finals can backfire on you. The important thing is to stay on the Beam and look good while doing it, which is the same for almost every event.”

Although the judges were different at each of the three regionals, four girls at the Huntington North regional had scores in the All-Around higher than Ward’s 35.400, while the competition in the far northwestern corner of the state is really keen, as 16 girls at the Valparaiso regional had scores higher than Ward’s 35.400.

Of course, some of those girls from the Valparaiso regional didn’t finish among the top six, so they will not be appearing in Saturday’s state finals. This just shows how tough the competition is in gymnastics around the state and what an honor it is to even make it to the state finals. 

“I’ve been to the state finals before and know how good those other girls are,” Ward added. “I’m just thankful I’m going to be competing with them on the same stage.”

Being in the All-Around competition, Ward also is eligible to stand on the podium as one of the top six in each of the individual events. Based on what has transpired this season and in the opening two rounds of the tournament, Ward’s best bets there probably are in Vault and Uneven Parallel Bars. She does well in Floor Exercise, but the competition is extremely intense in that event.

Considering all three regionals, the top score in Vault was 9.800 turned in by freshman Haiven Gipson of Harrison (West Lafayette); the top score on Uneven Parallel Bars was 9.800 recorded by  sophomore Mia Pak of Chesterton; the best score on Balance Beam was 9.700 turned in by both Columbus North freshman Emily Moore and Chesterton junior Sophia Hunzelman; and the top score in Floor Exercise was 9.700 recorded by Chesterton senior Jordan Bush.

The best All-Around score among the three regionals was 38.475 recorded by senior Jordan Bush from Chesterton.

At the IHSAA state finals, there are four rotations. Ward will begin her day on Uneven Parallel Bars, then will proceed to Balance Beam for her second event, followed by Floor Exercise as her third event. Ward will conclude her day with a performance on Vault, which is her best and favorite event of the four.

Ward will be performing toward the end of each rotation, but will not be the last one performing in any of her four rotations.

“Generally, few girls want to start out on Beam because it’s a difficult event with a lot of jitters,” Hittson added. “Some girls like to do Beam first to get it over with, but I think it’s better to have it in a later rotation. Sam ends the day on Vault, her best event, and we’d be happy if she finishes in the top third of it. Anything better would just be icing on the cake.”

Noblesville High School is located at 18111 Cumberland Road in Noblesville. Opening ceremonies Saturday are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. with the competition commencing at 1 p.m. The admission charge is $10 per person with preschool children admitted free of charge.

Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals will be streamed live on IHSAAtv.org.