High hopes for Mustang gymnasts
Danica Barto was the Wolves’ lone representative at Chugiak for the first gymnastics meet of the season Friday, Aug. 25. But the junior gymnast didn’t compete. Instead, Barto watched the Mustangs defeat East High 181.90 to 130.35 from the stands.
A torn ACL on the third day of practice sidelined Eagle River’s only gymnast for nine to 12 months. Barto said she planned to have surgery Wednesday, Aug. 31, and is hoping to return for her senior season.
The injury came while practicing tumbling on the first day the floor was laid down in the gym, Barto said.
Despite her disappointment, Barto said she’s glad the injury didn’t occur during her senior year.
Barto’s injury also dealt a blow to head coach Angie Bayer.
“We’re saddened,” Bayer said. “She was our top athlete. She’s good at what she does and she has fun doing it.”
Bayer said she’s not giving up on this season.
“I’d love to welcome more girls to the gymnastics team,” she said. “We’d still love to be able to represent Eagle River High and compete.”
Anyone interested in joining the team can contact Bayer at 229-9398 or visit Eagle River High’s activities office. Athletes of all levels are welcome, Bayer said.
Prior to Barto’s injury, Eagle River lost one potential returner to flag football and a couple more to volleyball, Bayer said.
“The other sports are more popular I guess,” she said.
Chugiak, on the other hand, has 14 girls on its team.
“That’s a perfect number because it’s manageable,” said eighth-year head coach Wendy Wiltfong.
With five seniors and a strong freshmen class, the Mustangs are already off to a great start, Wiltfong said after the dual victory over East.
“We look really prepared this year,” she said. “To be where we are right now is really good.”
Senior Allison Thomas agreed.
“It seems like we’re farther ahead than we normally are in the season,” Thomas said.
The team’s fast-learning freshmen are a major reason for that preparedness, Thomas said.
“All the new girls are just picking it up really quick,” she said.
The freshmen and seniors work well together, Wiltfong said. The seniors provide leadership and serve as role models while the talented young members push the upperclassmen to do better, she said.
“We have a lot of depth with our young freshmen,” Wiltfong said. “They’re really quick learners.”
The influx of freshmen bodes well for the program’s future, Thomas said.
“It will be good to keep the team going,” she said.
Thomas is part of a trio of key returners for Wiltfong. Wiltfong said her “triple-A threat” of seniors Allison Thomas, Alex Collins and Alyssa McGill are the team’s leaders.
“They’re the trio that’s been together since day one,” she said.
A win in the floor exercise and second-place finishes on the balance beam and vault gave McGill a second-place all-around finish behind East’s Celina Brown. Collins recorded two second-place finishes (vault, floor) to finish third all-around and Maddie Smith was fourth.
Chugiak picked up two individual wins, as Smith won the vault.
The Mustangs have the skill to improve upon their third-place finish at last year’s Cook Inlet Conference meet, Collins said.
“This year, we can bump up our scores,” she said. “We’re looking good.”
McGill echoed those sentiments.
“I’m really excited as a team captain at how good of a team we have this year,” she said.
Wiltfong said she hopes her girls are peaking by the conference meet.
McGill said Chugiak tries to keep a light atmosphere at practice while supporting one another.
“We cheer each other on, even in practice,” she said. “We try to look out for everyone and keep each other’s spirits up.”
“It’s just a great group of girls,” she said.