When the 40th annual South Dakota state high school gymnastics meet starts two days of intense competition, Rapid City Central will be looking to defend last’s year Class AA state championship as well as the home turf.

The Cobblers won last year’s title, their fourth, but will hope to benefit from some home cooking to put together back-to-back championships for the first time in school history when the team portion of the meet kicks off Friday at Rapid City Stevens.

“We’re pretty excited that it’s going to be in our hometown,” said Pam Junek, who coaches both Rapid City Central and Rapid City Stevens.

The Cobblers and Raiders have found a new home for practice and home meets at the former Dakota Middle School annex, but Stevens’ Carold Heier Gymnasium is also a familiar venue.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure right now, but we have to think like we’re just practicing at home. It’s our own equipment so we should be a lot more comfortable at state,” said Central senior Brandee Roach, who will wrap up a six-year varsity gymnastics career this weekend.

Junek said Friday’s team competition will see a change in format. Both the Class AA and Class A meets will be occurring simultaneously by seed, which means Class A No.1-seed Deuel and top AA seed Rapid City Central will be competing at the same time in each event.

Spectators will be able to keep track of Class A and AA scores, decided by separate judges, with a color-coded system during each event.

“We’re going to be able to see the best gymnasts in the state competing at the team competition in one session,” Junek said.

The Cobblers are led by seniors Roach and McKinsey Kost and sisters Colette and Chelsey Christensen.

Colette, a junior, won last year’s all-around championship after winning the vault and balance beam and placing second in floor exercise and fifth in uneven bars.

Chelsey, an eighth-grader, won the uneven bars and floor exercise and placed third in vault to finish second in the all-around standings last year.

Chelsey said she wants to stay as consistent as possible and have fun at the home meet.

“Last year we had the incentive to get (the championship) and this year we have to maintain it,” she said.

Junek said Colette Christensen is coming back after an off-season knee injury. Her first all-around competition was at last week’s Greater Dakota Conference meet.

Colette said the home advantage will only go so far.

“When everything comes together you have to be ready for it. You have to practice like you compete,” she said.

Roach is looking for a championship in beam and to top the school record score of 9.875 in the event. Kost is also a consistent finisher in the all-around, Junek said.

“We’re going to need all four of those girls to be pulling their weight in the team competition,” Junek said.

Kost said the team is trying to relax, yet stay focused.

“Last year I didn’t do the best. I fell on beam which is really odd for me, but I’m hoping to finish in the top four for state and basically my biggest thing is first for the team,” Kost said.

Central sophomores Ashley Solano and Alaina Klapperich will fill in during Friday’s team meet and Saturday’s individual competition.

Stevens is led by senior Kati Rath, followed by freshman Sidney Ossenfort, eighth-grader Mallorry Schoenhard and seventh-grader Logan Haggerty.

“It’s good to finally have a team this year because last year we didn’t have one,” Rath said. “To be able to go to team day as a tight-knit group is just awesome.”

Junek said last year’s runner-up, Watertown, is something of an unknown.

“We missed our meet in Pierre because of weather. We haven’t seen them since December, or they us,” she said.

In Class A, defending champion Deuel hopes to be at full strength for the first time since mid-December. The Cardinals have been battling minor injuries and illness.

“We are hoping, like all teams, to have our best meet on the 15th and 16th in Rapid City,” said Deuel coach Lynn Gudmundson.

Deuel sophomore Meaghan Sievers and senior Sam Wiekamp finished 1-2 in last year’s all-around.

Gudmundson expects Madison, whose national-record string of 16 straight Class A titles was snapped by the Cardinals two years ago, to be right there again.

“They are a talented team with the potential to score big at any time, so we will need to limit our mistakes to increase our chances of a three-peat,” Gudmundson said.

Lexi Finck and Jenny Giles of of Madison, Deuel’s Alex Stein and Kaitlyn Plut and Courtney Trapp of Milbank will be gymnasts to watch.

Hot Springs (fourth in the team race last year) and Wall/Kadoka Area are also competing in Class A.

Friday’s combined team competition starts with opening ceremonies at 10:45 a.m., with the awards ceremony beginning at approximately 6:45 p.m.

Saturday’s separate individual meets start with opening ceremonies in Class AA at 9:15 a.m., followed by the Class A championships at 4:15 p.m.

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