Many methods can build a high school state championship program, but not many like the one Fuquay-Varina’s newly crowned gymnastics team used. It began with a parent’s phone call inquiring how to start a team.
In only Fuquay’s fourth year, the Bengals won the North Carolina High School State Championship for large teams on Friday night at the Raleigh School of Gymnastics.
On Saturday, Rolesville pulled off the same feat. In just its fourth year, the Rams won the state championship among small teams.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association doesn’t sanction gymnastics, but schools with organized teams compete for state large and small team titles based on the rosters rather than the size of the school’s enrollment.
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The top four teams were separated by only 1.5 points with Fuquay-Varina totaling 151.55. Defending state champion Panther Creek was second at 151.0, Leesville Road third at 150.2 and Clayton fourth at 150.15.
Fuquay senior Haven Haswell led the Bengals to the team title, winning the state all-around crown with 38.6 points.
“We knew it was close and were biting our nails,” Haswell said. “We’re really excited to win the state champs this year.”
The quick rise from no program four years ago to the top step of the medal podium began when Lauren Sorrell finished eighth grade. Her mother Ruth called the school’s administration to learn what needed to be done to start a program.
Before long, all the pieces – including new athletic director James Mountford, who supported the idea – were in place for Fuquay to join its conference rivals with four freshmen.
Stacey Amy was hired as the coach, and she has been with the Bengals throughout the building process.
In addition to Sorrell, the other fourth-year seniors are Olivia Mattox, Tori Manning and Izzy Flynn. But the Bengals added a fifth senior, old friend Haven Haswell. She had started in gymnastics at a young age with Sorrell until her family moved away after fourth grade. They family returned from South Carolina to Fuquay-Varina her junior year.
“This has been one of my best years of my life,” Haswell said. “I’ve had so much fun with these girls. They’re so supportive. They know how to make me laugh. It’s been an exciting experience.”
Haswell, who will continue her gymnastics career at Southeast Missouri State, posted a 9.9 in the beam, but Panther Creek’s Maria Esposto matched her with a 9.9 to tie for first.
Haswell’s other win was a 9.65 in the bars, a tie for second in the vault at 9.45 and seventh in the floor at 9.6.
“It was great to have her come back (to Fuquay-Varina),” said Sorrell, who contributed a tie for seventh in the beam (9.65) “She’s an awesome gymnast. We loved having her on the team and having her support.”
The all-around runner-up was Leesville Road’s Waverly Kennedy with a 38.45 and third-place finisher was Panther Creek’s Sara Miller at 38.15. In the other events, Esposto had a second gold medal with a 9.85 in the floor exercise. Teammate Katie Brownlee was second at 9.8 and Leesville Road’s McKenna Brunick third at 9.75.
The other event winner was Clayton’s Mikayla Cron in the vault at 9.5. Haswell’s tie for second was with Brunick and Clayton’s Madyson Scott.
Green Hope’s Sabriyya Rouse, who has a full scholarship to Maryland, was unable to compete with an injured knee suffered two weeks ago.
In the all-stars competition for girls without a team, Jordan’s Tracy Childress won the all-around with a 37.0. She won the vault (9.35), bars (9.3) and beam (9.2). Southeast Raleigh’s Kelsie Hembrick won the floor at 9.2.
Rolesville gymnast Breighana O’Neil said she’s noticed her friend and teammate Nhlya Bryant has become more serious about developing her talent in the past year.
“She used to goof around a lot in practice,” said O’Neil, referring to previous years in club gymnastics before the two freshmen joined Rolesville’s varsity this season.
Bryant’s improved focus was on display Saturday.
Bryant won the all-around competition with a 38.85 that provided the difference in the team race. Rolesville claimed the state title with 110.65 to runner-up Wake Forest’s 109 total.
“I’m excited we won,” Bryant said. “I love gymnastics. I’m happy coming to practice every day and trying my best. I want to win.”
But even when she claims two first places, a tie for first and a tie for fourth, she’s not satisfied. Bryant recently earned Level 10 status in club gymnastics.
“She wanted a 10 today,” said Rolesville coach John-Mark Magee. “She came close, but she expects a lot of herself.”
Bryant won the bars with a 9.85, the floor exercise with a 9.8, tied for first in the beam with a 9.75 and tied for fourth in the vault at 9.45.
Bryant’s tie in the beam for first place at 9.75 was with Cleveland’s Brianna Dearman, who finished as the all-around runner-up at 37.9. Dearman was fourth in the bars (9.45), tied for fifth in the floor (9.5) and tied for 17th in the vault (9.25).
The other event winner was Wake Forest’s Kaleigh Martin in the vault with a 9.6.
In the All-Stars competition for girls without a team, Neuse Charter’s Megan Mustgrave won the all-around at 38.2. She claimed the floor (9.6).
Two other All-Stars event winners were N.C. State-bound Sara Watson of Tabor City’s South Columbus in the beam (9.8) and Sanderson’s Sarah Anne Cook in the bars (9.65). In the vault, Harnett Central’s Abbie Page and Sanderson’s Ashelyn Vinsel tied for first (9.55).