GYMNASTICS: Raiders have a new coach for the first time in 36 seasons

Thomas Jefferson senior Monica Church is hoping to lead the Raiders to a repeat of their SPSL North Division championship from a season ago.  - Casey Olson/The Mirror
Thomas Jefferson senior Monica Church is hoping to lead the Raiders to a repeat of their SPSL North Division championship from a season ago.
— image credit: Casey Olson/The Mirror

Replacing a legend has often been a double-edged sword in the coaching industry. On one hand, it’s tough to live up to what your predecessor has accomplished. But, on the other hand, the longtime coach has developed a program that features talent galore year after year.

Replacing a legend is exactly what Kellie Horrocks has done at Thomas Jefferson High School. Horrocks has taken over the Raiders’ gymnastics program from Deb Hunter, who led the TJ girls for an amazing 36 years.

Hunter was the longest serving, single-sport head coach in the history of the Federal Way School District and was inducted into the district’s Athletic Hall of Fame in January.

Hunter definitely didn’t leave the cupboard bare for Horracks. The Raiders return a very strong group of seniors in Monica Church, Shelby Church and Kaylynne Fuller.

“We are lucky to have so much talent on our team this year,” Horracks said. “The Church girls are super talented and will be very competitive when they peak and Kaylynne is the rock of our team, our fearless leader and a solid athlete.”

Last season, the Church twins and Fuller helped the Raiders finish up just 0.26 points away from qualifying to be one of just four teams competing for the Class 4A team championship. Mount Rainier tallied 177.3 team points, compared to 176.275 by TJ.

Monica Church finished in seventh place at the West Central District Championships in the all-around, and Shelby was right behind in ninth place. But Monica proved to be one of the best in the state on the floor exercise, winning the district title in the event with a dazzling 9.75 and finishing seventh at state.

But the seniors aren’t the only talented gymnasts the Raiders possess. Junior Kelsey Barrett outdistanced the Churches in TJ’s first meet of the season to win the all-around competition.

“She has the fire and drive to lead this team,” Horracks said.

Jefferson also features talented freshman Daniele Poltz, whom Horracks expects “great things from as she grows and matures into a team leader.”

The Raiders’ roster is rounded out by Allison Burnham, Kira Smith, Makayla Risch, Tigger Huisinga, Charity Fenster and Linda Eng.

“We have a small team, only 11 girls, but great things come in small packages,” Horracks said. “This team has huge potential. Once we harness our talent, get strong and steady, the Raiders will be an unstoppable force.”

The Federal Way Eagles should be improved this season after finishing near the bottom of the South Puget Sound League a season ago. Sixth-year head coach Jamie Tough has a solid core of three gymnasts to lead the Eagles.

“I’m so excited for this season,” Tough said. “While we have a lot of work to do, we seem to be very motivated to do whatever it takes to get back into shape and really improve our scores this year.”

Tia Thomas and Madalynn Grace should be the Eagles’ main point scorers this season. Thomas missed qualifying for the state meet in the floor exercise last season by just .05 points.

Unlike Thomas, who has never competed in club gymnastics, Grace recently quit the year-round club scene to be able to turn out for Federal Way.

“It is quite a change and a very tough decision for a club girl to come to,” Tough said.


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