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Trojans' Ward to compete in the All-Around at state finals

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New Castle freshman Samantha Ward competes in Floor Exercise during last Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics regional in Connersville’s Spartan Bowl. Ward placed fifth in the All-Around competition, good enough to qualify for this Saturday’s state finals at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
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New Castle freshman Samantha Ward competes on Balance Beam during last Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics regional in Connersville’s Spartan Bowl. Ward finished tied for fifth in the All-Around competition and advanced to compete with Indiana’s best gymnasts in this Saturday’s state finals at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.
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New Castle freshman Riley E. Smith begins her Floor Exercise routine during last Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics regional in Connersville’s Spartan Bowl. Smith’s score of 9.125 was good enough for seventh place and just 0.075 points shy of sixth and automatic qualification for this Saturday’s state finals, but Smith will be there at the state finals Saturday to compete at noon to provide a base score in Floor at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie.

By DAVID RISLEY - drisley@thecouriertimes.com

To compete in the state finals is quite an accomplishment, but to do so as a freshman is an even bigger thrill.

New Castle High School 9th-grader Samantha Ward, a member to the Trojan junior varsity volleyball team last fall, was not on the tournament roster when the New Castle varsity volleyball team captured the Class 3A IHSAA volleyball state championship last November at Ball State’s Worthen Arena in Muncie, but she will be in the same place Saturday for the IHSAA gymnastics state finals.

In addition to Ward, Trojan freshman Riley E. Smith also has been invited to participate in Saturday’s state finals and will be a base score for the Floor Exercise at noon. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for 12:30 p.m. with the state finals competition commencing at 1 p.m.

The best gymnasts from around the state will be in Muncie Saturday, as girls from the Valparaiso, Huntington North, and Connersville regionals qualified to get to the final day of IHSAA competition.

Nine teams will vie for the team state championship. Those nine are Chesterton, Valparaiso, and Portage from the Valparaiso regional, Carroll (Fort Wayne), Homestead, and Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger from the Huntington North regional, and Columbus North, Columbus East and Seymour from the Connersville regional.

Based upon scores from the regionals, Chesterton (113.975) and Valparaiso (113.925) may be the favorites for the team state title, but the regionals did not have the same judges. Who wins depends upon who brings it the best Saturday when it counts.

Ward qualified for the state finals by finishing in a tie for fifth with Columbus East freshman Taylen Lane in the All-Around competition at Connersville, Both had scores of 35.550.

Before she found out she made it in the All-Around, Ward already had punched her ticket to the state finals by finishing in a fourth-place tie in Vault (9.375) with Molly Griffin of Indianapolis Scecina and finished alone in fourth place on the Uneven Bars with a score of 9.225 at the Connersville regional.

Ward’s score on Beam at the regional was 8.525 and she had an 8.675 on Floor. Remarkably, Ward is the only girl who competed in the Connersville sectional Feb. 24 to reach the state finals.

“Samantha qualifying for state in the All-Around as a freshman is fantastic,” New Castle Coach Tina Hittson stated. “Our regional was difficult to advance in the All-Around. All of the girls advancing in the All- Around were either part of the Columbus North or Columbus East team. She received her highest vault and bar scores of the season at regional.”

It never is easy to win an individual competition at state, and Saturday will be no different. The top six finishers in each of the Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam, and Floor Exercise events, plus the All-Around, will stand on the podium to be recognized during the awards ceremony.

If the regional results are any indication, Columbus East senior Adison Minor may be the girl to beat in the All-Around competition, as her combined score in all four events for the All-Around was 38.975 at the Connersville regional.

At Connersville, Minor was first on Vault (9.800), first on Bars (9.850), first on Beam (9.675) and second on second on Floor (9.650) to Columbus North senior Claire Thompson, who had 9.700.

Minor’s scores of 9.800 on Vault, 9.850 on Bars, and 38.975 in the All-Around were the best in the state among all regionals. Chesterton sophomore Sophia Hunzelman had the best score on Beam among all regionals with a 9.775, and Valparaiso senior Rachel Moneta had the best score on Floor with a 9.750.

Of course, one has to remember that different judges evaluated the competitors at different sites.

New Castle’s Smith gets to compete on Floor Exercise to determine a base score by finishing tied for seventh in the event with New Palestine’s Grace Shanahan with a score of 9.125. That mark was just 0.075 points shy of sixth place, which qualifies a girls to compete in the state finals.

“Riley is also a freshman and will be performing her floor routine at state as the base score,” Hittson explained. “Base score participants are chosen from regionals around the state based on their scores and placings. Riley only missed qualifying by 0.075. Base scores perform an exhibition routine that is scored by the judges and then every competitor’s score is compared to that opening score. This is the first time in the 32 years that I have been coach that we have had anyone chosen to perform. It is a huge honor to receive that recognition.”

Once the state finals get underway, Ward has been assigned to Rotation D in which she gets to compete in each of the four events with the entire teams from Fort Wayne Dwenger and Columbus East, plus Elkhart Central’s Analena Vanderzwaag and McCutcheon’s Emma Taylor.

Ward and her Rotation D group will start on Bars, followed, in order, by performances on Beam, Floor, and Vault, so Ward will open and close her state finals performance with her best events.

“These are her two favorite events and she will start her day with bars and end on vault,” Hittson added. “This week we have not changed anything in the routines since we have been adding and increasing the difficulty throughout the season. Instead, we have worked on making the routines clean and smooth. Samantha is a very hard worker and strives to add new skills and improve her scores, and it has definitely paid off. Samantha is always the last one working.”

Admission to Saturday’s IHSAA gymnastics state finals is $10. Ball State charges $5 for parking in the Worthen Arena lots during state finals events.