The sport of gymnastics is growing.
Look no further than the Chi-Hi Cardinals as an example of that.
The program has picked up more competitors over the past several years and as coach Karlee Terry enters her ninth season leading it, she comes into the season with 22 athletes — enough for a varsity and junior varsity squad plus more.
“What’s really nice is the girls that have been in the sport for years, our varsity all-arounders, they are so approachable and welcoming,” Terry said. “They have created such a great atmosphere in the gym that we don’t have that intimidation factor. I think it’s more motivating because these girls see what they are capable of, what is possible in the sport.”
Chi-Hi has plenty of talent in those numbers with several competitors returning from a team that won a Division 1 sectional team championship and placed 10th at state a season ago.
Senior Isabelle Spooner and junior Addy Bengtson are each two-time state qualifiers leading the way. Bengtson and Spooner finished 21st and 22nd all-around, respectively, last year at state and advanced to state in 2016. Juniors Paige Marshall and Maddie Schmidley and sophomores Lily Spooner and Rachel Fransway also competed for the Cardinals at the state meet and are back as a part of an experienced core that has the team thinking big this winter.
“My goal for the first six weeks of practices was to pick up where we left off last year,” Terry said. “With the majority of our team being returners I think we are on track to do that. In terms of when we get into competition, I want to start where we left off last year and build from there.”
The team added several new gymnastics this season, both athletes new to the program as well as those that have competed previously. Last season the Cardinals started off slow and finished in the middle of the pack at the Big Rivers Conference tournament prior to a breakthrough performance at home for sectionals. This season Terry wants the team to use its strong finish to last season as a jumping off point for what it can accomplish his season.
“This year I don’t want to wait until the last four weeks of the season to get to that point,” Terry said. “I want to get to that point now and end sectionals way further ahead than what they thought they were capable of at the beginning of the season.”
Chi-Hi opens the season on Tuesday in a conference dual at Hudson before hosting the program’s annual Snowflake Invitational on Dec. 9. The team also has home duals against Eau Claire North/Memorial (Dec. 21), Menomonie (Jan. 15) and River Falls (Feb. 8) before the Big Rivers Conference tournament in River Falls on Feb. 16 and Division 1 sectionals in Wisconsin Rapids on Feb. 24.
As the sport grows, Terry is hoping the buzz and fan base around the program grows as well.
“More families are being effected by the sport, whether it’s their kids or their nieces or if their neighbor’s kids,” Terry said. “We have an influx of new gyms and new programs for the youth. Gymnastics is becoming more popular and we’re seeing it at the high school level. At this point I want to see Chi-Hi and the Chippewa community start to really get behind this sport.”