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It’s a 12-team tournament with the best teams in the state competing, and it is also an opportunity for the Rapid City Stevens and Rapid City Central gymnastics teams to get their feet wet in the season opener for both squads.

The Raiders and Cobblers, both coached by Pam Junek, open the season Saturday at the Lolly Forseth Invite at Sioux Falls Lincoln. Action is set for 10 a.m. MST.

The early-season meets – and they are all big – are important in picking the team depth for later in the season and at the state tournament. Both teams compete in a 14-team Aberdeen meet on Dec. 9 and the 12-team Mitchell Invitational the following weekend.

“It will be a good meet to see everybody in the state and see how well we do under pressure at competitions,” Central sophomore Reece Lowe said.

Junek said they are doing their East River swing all early in the season, and that will be good for the teams.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to see the other teams,” she said.

Junek said they are obviously excited about the start of the season. Both teams began practicing on Nov. 2.

“It’s kind of been a really busy first month, trying to get kids entered into high school gymnastics,” Junek said. “We have a lot of new ones this year that have had some club experience, so we’re trying to help them learn what the differences are between club gymnastics versus high school gymnastics.”

Just what is the difference between the two levels of gymnastics? Junek said in high school it is all about the team and not heavily tilted towards individual competition.

“We have to do what is in the best interest of the team. What that means is we get five spots in events to compete in on Saturday. One of our teams (Stevens) has 12 girls on the roster and the other team (Central) has eight. We have to pick the strongest for each one of the events.”

Seven of the 12 for Stevens are returning. They include senior Danielle Schmidt, juniors Shay Trimble, Fiona Donhiser and Cayla Klapperich, sophomores Emirra Returns and Rylie Stonecipher and eighth-grader Aubrey Bodensteiner.

Although the last two state champions – Watertown (2017) and Mitchell (2016) will once again go in as state favorites, Junek said the Raiders have a shot to compete with the best.

Junek said that if the Raiders put everything together, they can be a state challenger, and if they put their team first and work together to get those scores up, they will have a good season.

“It’s all about the numbers when it comes to competitive gymnastics,” she said.

Trimble, who was a state challenger last season before she missed the state tournament, has stepped up this year and will be among the state’s best once again.

“She has a long history in gymnastics and since she has come back in the gym, she has been working really hard,” Junek said. “She wants it, so she is working hard at it.”

Added Trimble: “It’s been kind of hard because I have been out for a while. But Tara (Godfrey) and Pam have been taking care of me, so it has been alright.”

Other Raiders to look for include Klapperich on the floor exercise, Stonecipher on the vault, Returns on the floor and the uneven parallel bars, Bodensteiner and Schmidt.

“I’m hoping that Stevens can win state, and we’re all working hard for that,” Trimble said. “I think we all need to commit and work our hardest.”

Back for the Cobblers is senior Holly Allen, juniors Jamie Iwan, Alexia Burris and sophomores Lowe and Sidney Yeager.

Senior Skylar Larson and Lowe are on the high school team after several years of competing in club gymnastics.

The Cobblers didn’t qualify for state last year, but have the numbers this season and have a shot at going to the state tournament.

“We have some pretty good prospects that are coming out for Central this year,” Junek said. “We are excited about getting a full team for Central. With Skylar Larson and Reece Lowe new to the program, those girls are really going to help put some numbers on the board.”

Allen and Iwan are two returners who have good experience and who have been showing strengths in practice.

“I think the Central team will do a really good job this season. We’ve come a long ways from our first practice,” Lowe said.

The Rapid City coaches will be moving some gymnasts around to see what their strengths are. For many of the newcomers, the coaches don’t what those strengths are just yet until they see them in live competition.

“We have four newcomers (for Stevens) who are going to be fighting for one of the spots, so we are excited about that,” Junek said.

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Sports Editor

Sports reporter for the Rapid City Journal.