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Junior Paige Dean claimed second place on the vault when the Hand gymnastics team competed against Law on March 12. The Tigers have been practicing and holding their meets at ABC Gymnastics in Niantic this year. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Morgan McMahon (pictured competing on the beam) recorded a score of 9.05 on her way to taking first place for the Tigers on the floor exercise in last week’s meet versus Law. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
The COVID-19 pandemic has foiled the plans of many high school sports teams throughout the state of Connecticut this winter. Just a few weeks ago, it appeared as though the Hand gymnastics team was going to be included on that list.
The Tigers were without an area to compete or practice in after Polson Middle School announced that it was converting its gym into a socially distanced space for students to learn. Consequently, Head Coach Kelly Smith had to come up with a quick plan if her team had any hopes of competing this season.
“During a typical season, we’re practicing five days a week for a minimum of two hours. We ended up having to rent out a space in Niantic, and now we are only able to practice three days a week,” said Smith, who is in her 15th season as Hand’s head coach. “The time commitment is still about the same because of travel, but it’s definitely made things more difficult for us. We are just happy to be competing this year.”
Hand has been practicing and holding its home meets at ABC Gymnastics in Niantic. Coach Smith said that one of the main reasons her team is practicing three days a week as opposed to five is due to the cost of travel. Smith and Tigers are eager to get back in their home gym, but she doesn’t anticipate that happening until 2022.
“The cost of getting us to and from Niantic is expensive. Thankfully, the school covers all travel costs for us, but we are all anxious to get back to Polson again once this pandemic clears up,” Smith said. “The girls have done a great job of social distancing and cleaning up after practices, and that’s one of the main reasons why we haven’t been one of those teams that has gotten quarantined. We are very lucky.”
Hand has participated in five meets this season, the first two of which were individual competitions. For their three dual-meets, the Tigers have a record of 2-1 that includes victories against Hamden (127.2-91.5) and Mercy (122.5-122.25).
Last week, Hand took a 135.7-131.85 loss against Law. This was a virtual meet in which Law’s athletes competed at their home high school on March 11, after which the Tigers turned in their performances at ABC Gymnastics the following day.
Junior all-around competitor Paige Dean was one of Hand’s top scorers in the meet, placing second on the vault with a score of 8.8. Morgan McMahon, a sophomore who also competes all-around, took first place on the floor by scoring a 9.05.
“I have 21 athletes on the team, and they’re all varsity competitors. All of these girls have been great so far this year,” said Smith. “In our meet against Law, Paige and Morgan really stood out as some of our top performers. Paige was an All-State recipient her freshman year, and Morgan is someone that we can count on for all four events. It’s going to be tough to beat Law in the SCC Tournament. They have a lot of talent.”
Other standouts for the Tigers include senior captains Kayla Cataldo, Grace Segnere, and Megan Stefanowksi. Coach Smith said that junior Riley Caruso has also been turning in impressive performances thus far this season.
One of the strangest things for Smith and her squad is the fact that Hand has been participating in all of its meets virtually this year. The Tigers miss the experience of competing against their opponents in a live setting.
“We enjoy the sport so much, and we love cheering on the other team when they are competing against us,” said Smith. “Gymnastics is different in the sense that these girls build a camaraderie with each other, even if they compete for different schools. These girls get to know each other, and I know they’re disappointed that they can’t see their friends from different schools this year.”
The Tigers were slated to face Foran for their final regular-season meet on March 16 (after press time). The Southern Connecticut Conference Championship is scheduled to take place on Saturday, March 20, also in a virtual capacity.
“We were third in the SCC last year, and we would like to improve on our finish,” Coach Smith said. “Our goal is always to have the best possible day whenever we go out there and compete. We want to end our season on a high note.”
The other athletes on Hand’s roster include juniors Ally Gabrynowicz, Riley Kilbourn, and Reese Newman; sophomores Eva Alquist, Ellie Davern, Jalizmar Madera, and Sophia Prestash; and freshmen Dylan Friedman, Kaylee Fry, Jacqueline Kennedy, Kelly Kilbourn, Nicole Quain, Hadley Reiss, Abby Simpson, and Sydney Williams.