Panther Creek’s Gabrielle Labrozzi wrapped her arms around the state title trophy so firmly it suggests a second North Carolina gymnastics large team championship was anything but routine.
“This one means more to us,” said the senior, comparing 2016 to Panther Creek’s 2015 small team state title. “There was more cheering and team spirit. We made it our goal to win the large team title this year.”
Gymnastics isn’t sanctioned by the N.C. High School Athletic Association, but a large team state meet was contested Saturday and a small team state meet Friday at the Raleigh School of Gymnastics. The divisions are based on team size rather than school enrollment, and Panther Creek’s roster grew from four girls last year to 11 this season.
The Catamounts won with 153.6 points. Middle Creek won the small team title Friday to make it a sweep for Southwest Wake Athletic Conference schools.
Labrozzi led the Catamounts with a third-place all-around score of a 38.55 and a win in the vault at 9.85. SWAC rival Fuquay-Varina was second among large teams at 149.85 and Clayton third at 149.65.
Similar to Panther Creek, Corinth Holders senior Lydia Davis won the individual all-around large team state title after capturing the 2015 small team state crown.
“The competition to win the all-around is about the same,” Davis said, “but it means more for your school to win the large team title.”
Davis scored 39.05 and Fuquay-Varina’s Haven Haswell was the runner-up at 38.65. Following Labrozzi was Fuquay’s Tori Manning in fourth at 38.35 and Panther Creek’s Maria Esposto fifth at 38.35.
Davis and Panther Creek’s Emma Williams Turner tied for the high event scores in large teams with 9.9s. Davis won the balance beam and Williams Turner the floor exercise. Haswell won the bars at 9.75.
Jordan senior Drew Grantham started the Durham school’s program last season but missed the state meet with an injury. This year the N.C. State-bound scholarship gymnast established more Jordan history by winning the small team individual all-around title.
“Not a lot of people at our school know we have a team,” Grantham said. “I worked hard with our athletic director (Shelba Levins) to start the team and it’s nice to represent my school with a state title.”
Middle Creek claimed another first as Tia Kiaku led the Mustangs to their initial state team title as the all-around runner-up.
“Our program is only four years old, so the hard work paid off,” said Kiaku, a junior. “We work hard and get along. We’re like sisters.”
Grantham’s winning score was 39.05 and Kiaku’s 38.9. Middle Creek senior Elizabeth Farin was third at 38.8.
Grantham won the bars (9.7), was second in the floor exercise (9.85), third in the vault (9.6) and second in the balance beam (9.9). A 9.9 normally wins, but Leesville Road freshman Lizzy Henshall recorded the first 10 of her career.
“I’ve been working on less wobble,” said the 14-year-old Henshall, a club gymnast for six years. “I’m so excited about a 10 I can’t even describe it.”
Other event winners were Kiaku in the floor exercise (9.9) and Leesville Road’s Abigail Jenkins in the vault (9.7).
In team competition, Leesville was second with 114.2 points and Jordan third at 112.3.