Sports

The defending 3A KingCo title team

By Matt Phelps

For the first time in 20 years the Mercer Island gymnastics team will look to defend the 3A KingCo championship meet title. With all but one gymnast back from last year, and an influx of new talent, the team will have a good shot at both the championship and the dual-meet title.

``Our returning gymnasts would like to repeat this year but we know it is going to be a tough road up ahead,'' said Mercer Island High School head gymnastics coach Lenny Lewis. ``We look forward to the competition and to see where we stand.''

The Islanders gave the Issaquah Eagles something they had not had in almost four years at the KingCo meet last season -- a loss.

The dual-meet champions, who only beat Mercer Island by 1.7 points in a head-to-head meet last year, will come back strong this season with a healthy team and new talent.

``Head-to-head means the most to me and this year it will be tough to get the league championship again,'' said Lewis. ``The other teams have really reloaded. Everyone is going to be looking to beat us.''

Newport will also look to knock off Mercer Island at the end of the year with new club gymnasts turning out for the team.

``The Bellevue coach told me that they are out to beat us,'' said Lewis. ``It is a different situation for us this year.''

The Islanders are notorious for starting slow. As they did last season, Mercer Island will face Issaquah during the first meet of the year at 7 p.m. tomorrow, making for very little meet experience before their scores count towards the dual-meet title. Unlike last year, the Islanders will host Issaquah and Bainbridge Island.

``We are going to try to hold our ground,'' said Lewis. ``We always start slow and get better as the season goes on.''

That trend is good for the post season, but the dual-meet title could come down to the first meet of the year as it did last season.

But Mercer Island lost Ashley Wedlake, who led the team in scoring her junior year and was second on the team in scoring last season.

The Islanders biggest weapon comes in a small, explosive package -- Kelsey Ingram.

The defending 3A KingCo all-around champion, leads a roster full of experience and talent. Ingram spent the off-season perfecting a whole new routine on each event and even took her skills to the Islander dive team.

With Wedlake gone, Islander sophomore Olivia Harvey will look to continue her success with a year's experience and take the No. 2 spot on the team. As a freshman, Harvey was seventh in KingCo in all-around and second on bars.

Senior Mimi Maritz, senior Lauren Govier, junior Kristen Shibuya and senior Galit Almosnino gave Mercer Island great depth last season. Islander senior Taryn Matthews was plagued by injuries but showed flashes of brilliance

All the gymnasts will have to adapt or create new routines for this season's scoring changes, something that makes any predictions about the season impossible.

The gymnasts will not be able to throw in more challenging moves at the end of routines to beef up their scores, as they did last year.

``They have changed the requirements on all the events,'' said Lewis. ``It puts everyone a step back. You'll see new routines all over. It is more about composition this year.''

Despite the changes, Lewis expects his team to be strong on bars and floor exercise.

``I think we will break 40 (points as a team) on bars this year,'' said Lewis.

One big positive that Lewis saw on the first day of practice was all of his gymnasts in shape to start the preseason.

``We haven't lost anything,'' said Lewis. ``We are where we were last year and that is all I can ask.''

One thing the Islanders have gained is some strong talent at the sophomore and freshman level.

Laura Maruhashi took 12th in state in diving this past fall season. She will look to transition back to gymnastics with that competitive high school experience behind her. Islanders Megan Harrison and Erika Reutimann will add more depth to the team.

Mercer Island will face a strong Newport team Dec. 9 and finish the season with Mount Si Jan. 26. The KingCo meet will be held at Mount Si on Feb. 4.

Head coach: Lenny Lewis (17th year)

Assistant coach: Jenny Nakamura

Last year's record: 12-3, won the 3A KingCo Championship meet for the first time in 21 years. Broke 170 points total. Best district score in school history -- 170.2.

Key returning gymnasts: Kelsey Ingram (Sr.); Olivia Harvey (So.); Galit Almosnino (Sr.); Lauren Govier (Jr.); Kristen Shibuya (Jr.); Taryn Matthews (Sr.); Mimi Maritz (Sr.).

Key newcomers: Laura Maruhashi (So.); Megan Harrison (So.); Erika Reutimann (Fr.).

Key meets: Issaquah and Bainbridge, Newport, Bellevue.

First meet of the year: 7 p.m. Thursday vs. Issaquah and Bainbridge Island

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