Sports

Federal Way gymnastics in an unfamiliar spot --- third place

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

The Federal Way High School gymnastics program isn’t used to looking up at the competition in the South Puget Sound League.

Beverly McIrvin’s group of Eagles have grown pretty accustomed to occupying the SPSL’s top spot and watching teams claw and scratch in an attempt to catch them.

That’s not the case this season. In fact, the Federal Way gymnastics program is one of the teams trying to run down the unbeaten Rogers Rams in the SPSL standings. The Eagles currently sit in third place with a 9-2 record after meet losses to the 12-0 Rams and the 10-1 Sumner Spartans earlier this season.

The losing part is something senior co-captains Leslie McKinnon and Mykel Stivers haven’t ever experienced during their careers at Federal Way.

“It’s never easy to lose,” McKinnon said. “It’s been quite a change.”

During the pair’s first two seasons with Eagle gymnastics, the team lost a total of zero dual meets. Federal Way easily rolled to consecutive South Puget Sound League championships with perfect 21-0 records both seasons. Federal Way also finished third as a team at the Class 4A state championships in 2003 and 2004.

But the Eagles lost several state-calibur gymnasts from those teams, including Lauren Webb, who won the Class 4A balance beam championship last year and finished fourth in the all-around and Brianne Hall, seventh in the all-around.

“We’ll still do well this year,” said Beverly McIrvin, who has coached Federal Way for the last 28 years. “You have to deal with what you’ve got. It is going to be a slow process.”

The young and inexperienced Eagles seem to be coming together. Last week, Federal Way scored a season-high 167.15 points in a sweep of Auburn, Kentlake and Emerald Ridge.

The Eagles could take a huge step back into the SPSL championship race starting tonight when they travel to Kent-Meridian High School. The four-team meet will include unbeaten Rogers. The Eagles also take on Sumner next week.

Rogers is definitely the class of the SPSL so far this season. The Rams are averaging just over 170 points in four meets, while Federal Way is scoring just over 163 points a meet.

“Rogers is just loaded this year,” McIrvin said.

If the Eagles are able to knock off Rogers tonight it will be McKinnon and Stivers leading the way. Combined, the pair has close to 20 years experience in competitive gymnastics and thousands and thousands of hours in the practice room.

“You only have one chance to do it right,” Stivers said. “The more you practice the less nerves you have when you are doing your routine. They are not the easiest skills to get. It’s a mind game more than anything else.”

McKinnon has the second-best all-around score in the SPSL this season with 36.1 points in the four events — balance beam, uneven parallel bars, vault and floor exercise. McKinnon’s total trails only Sumner’s Bri Schwartz, who won the 2003 Class 4A all-around state championship. Stivers isn’t far behind with a season-best total of 35.85 in the all-around.

But the pair isn’t really concerned about individual honors, which is pretty rare in the ultra-individual sport.

“As a team we want to get better than third in state,” McKinnon said. “We have gotten third the last two years.”

McKinnon and Stivers are also not normal in the fact they are veteran club gymnasts, who also compete on their high school teams. Most of the time, the best gymnasts in the state don’t even turn out for their schools. A lot of the top-flight athletes spend their time training with their club coaches, who don’t want their kids getting injured during school competitions. A fact that doesn’t sit too well with a lot of the high school coaches.

“You just kind of learn how to deal with it,” McIrvin said about club gymnasts. “We have a girl here who’s not turning out. It would be nice if she was, but she’s not. There seems to be a lot of them around.”

Beamer also has one of the better gymnasts in the state at any level roaming its halls in Tasha Smith. The senior has already signed a national letter of intent to compete next year at Oregon State University while not competing on the Titans’ gymnastics team. Smith won the floor exercise at the 2003 Junior Olympic Level 10 Championships and is involved with the Gym Express club team in Auburn.

“It’s very frustrating,” McIrvin said. “It seems like gymnastics club coaches are very controlling. But club gymnastics does take a lot of time and energy.”

Both McKinnon and Stivers can attest to that. Both were heavily involved in the long hours involved with club gymnastics for numerous years.

“I was doing it for four to four and a half hours a day after school,” Stivers said. “You just don’t sleep much. You just learn how to manage your time a lot better.”

McKinnon and Stivers quit the club scene last year and both plan on attending college without competing in gymnastics.

“My club coach hated (high school gymnastics),” Stivers said. “I don’t regret doing club, but it’s a lot less stressful here. We are just having a lot of fun.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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