Gymnastics season preview: Raiders have a whole new look this year

Debbie Hunter has seen a lot of hand springs, backflips and dismounts during her 34 years at the helm of the Thomas Jefferson High School girls gymnastics program.

The longtime coach and her Raider gymnasts are coming off another South Puget Sound League North Division championship. Jefferson rolled to an 11-4 record during the regular season and eventually ended up fifth at the West Central District Championships. The Raiders sent four gymnasts to the Class 4A State Meet inside the Tacoma Dome.

But Jefferson is a completely different team from a season ago. Gone are three of the four girls that competed at the state tournament and Hunter has only four seniors on her entire roster.

“It will be fun to see how they grow as gymnasts and competitors,” Hunter said. “We are really working fundamentals because this group will be around for a while.”

The lone returning state tournament veteran is senior Anna Wallace. But it’s still unclear if Wallace will even compete during the season, according to Hunter.

“(She) had knee surgery and will not be competing, unless we can get a bar routine out of her later in the season,” she said.

But TJ does get a couple other gymnasts back from injuries in junior Megan McNew and senior Lexi Boring. McNew, an all-arounder, didn’t compete for the Raiders last year after a back injury and Boring transferred to TJ after spending last year at Todd Beamer. Boring, also an all-arounder, is currently attempting to get back in shape after having ankle surgery.

“It’s great to have Megan back,” Hunter said. “Floor (exercise) is her top event. (Lexi’s) strengths are the floor exercise and beam at this time, but she will definitely help with the vault and bars.”

Other point scorers for the Raiders this season should be Mallory Nunley, Lena Abu-Najem, Mackenzie Brough, Araina Rowe, Svetlana Shudrya, Brandi Vallejos and Briana Adams.

“This is definitely a building year,” Hunter said. “We have lots of new faces and challenges. They work hard and really want to learn.”

Unlike the Raiders, the Todd Beamer gymnastics program returns plenty of talent from a season ago, led by sophomore Cassie Peterson.

The Titans, along with Puyallup, are the prohibitive favorites to win the South Puget Sound League South Division title. Beamer kicked off the season with a big win over Emerald Ridge. During the meet, Peterson won the balance beam (9.45) and floor exercise (9.1).

Beamer will also be counting on Laura Schrader and Jessica Freeborn to score points.

The Federal Way and Decatur teams should struggle to keep up with some of the better teams in the SPSL this season, just like Jefferson.

The Eagles tallied 139.3 points during their opening meet of the season last week, while Decatur tallied 130.6.

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