Hamline hosts WIAC finale

Gymnasts from eight teams pack into Hutton Arena to showcase their skills and athleticism competing for a chance to go to the National Championship.

First-year Erika Briscoe performing at the WIAC Championship on March 15.

Paul Patane, Senior Reporter

With eight teams competing in the WIAC conference for gymnastics, hosting the championship at the end of the season is a rare treat. This year, Hamline was granted the opportunity to host the seven other WIAC colleges and universities to see who would advance to the NCGA National Championship on Sunday, March 15.

The 2015 Hamline Gymnastics team finished the WIAC Championship in fifth place with a score of 187.100. The winning team, UW-Whitewater, finished with 191.750 points. UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout and Winona State finished in second through fourth place, respectively.

The highest individual finish for the Pipers came via the Floor Exercise. First-year Alexa Vorderbruggen scored 9.675, which was good enough to force a three-way tie for fourth place. First-year Sela Fadness also did well with her Floor Exercise, finishing in eighth place, scoring 9.625.

Head Coach Doug Byrnes knew coming into the championship the Pipers could earn a lot of points for difficulty and as a result, have a shot at finishing in the top three. However, Byrnes also knew the team could only absorb a small handful of falls if they were to finish in the top three and earn a berth to compete for the National Championship.

“For us to finish third or higher, we can’t have an average day. We have to be solid in all four events. We can absorb a fall or two, but other than that, it’s hard,” Byrnes said before the meet.

Junior Briana Bridgeford agreed with Byrnes’ assessment that the points would be there if the team could avoid falls and mistakes.

Bridgeford competed on the Balance Beam and Parallel Uneven Bars in the championship. She excelled on the bars with a score of 9.500.

“Our big skills are there now,” Bridgeford said. “This year, we’re focused on the little things to be as clean as we can be.”

Unfortunately for the Pipers, they had more than two falls. The bulk of their struggles and falls came on the Balance Beam and Parallel Uneven Bars. By far, the best event for Hamline came via the Floor Exercise. The team scored 47.700 points in that event alone.

Regardless of scores earned and final placement, Byrnes has big expectations for his gymnasts before each meet.

“Hopefully everybody hits but if they don’t, that’s life. I want them to show composure, grit and get back on their feet if they fall,” Byrnes said. “Ultimately, that’s what I want to see from them.”

Jacklyn Clement, Alexis Nault and Tasha Golding competed in their last meet as senior Pipers in front of a home crowd. Clement’s best event on Sunday was the Balance Beam. She scored 9.450, which was good enough for 11th place. Nault scored 9.325 on Floor, 9.525 on Vault and 9.550 on Bars. Golding did well on the Balance Beam as well, scoring 9.350.

This season, Hamline participated in several four team meets. Two of those meets included nationally ranked NCAA Division I opponents. The first one was held at Oregon State, which also included Sacramento State and Washington. The second was the Best of Minnesota at University of Minnesota. In addition to the Pipers and Gophers, that meet included WIAC rivals Gustavus Adolphus and Winona State.

After competing in large Division I hosted events, Clement and her teammates knew to expect a lot of noise and a large amount of fans.

“At the WIAC, there’s a lot of people there,” Clement said. “We never get crowds that big at our meets. There’s a lot more pressure than normal.”

Byrnes liked giving his athletes the opportunity to go up against Division I competition to help prepare for such a well attended event.

“Our girls love the opportunity to get in that environment,” Byrnes said.

Hamline University hasn’t finished in the top three at the WIAC Championship since 2007. Last year, the Pipers missed third place as a team by one half of a tenth. The 2014 Pipers were led by seniors Bria Blakely, the 2014 NCGA Championship winner, and NCAA Woman of the Year semifinalist Courtney Benson. Gymnasts that were part of that team know how tough it is to be so close but not quite able to get over the hump.

Bridgeford appreciates all the efforts the Pipers have made in pushing forward without Blakely or Benson.

“I think we’ve really come together as a team. We’ve all worked really hard to get to where we are,” Bridgeford said.

The top three finishers, UW-Whitewater, UW-La Crosse and UW-Stout advance to the NCGA Championship, which will be held on March 27 and 28 in La Crosse, Wisconsin.