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Youth is served

Red Wing freshman Irina Anderson works on her uneven bar routine during practice Wednesday in Red Wing. Anderson and the Wingers open their season today at the Jeanne Harris Memorial Byron Gymnastics Invitational in Byron. Photo by Chris Harrell

No seniors, no problem for the Red Wing gymnastics team.

Junior captain Molly Hart is the team's leader and with the previous club experience of freshmen Irina Anderson and Maria Furlong, the Wingers have all they need to compete this season.

"(Hart) is a very strong leader," Red Wing head coach Beth Mayer said. "She does a great job of pulling the girls together. She's a good go-between."

Hart is in her second year as captain and brings stability to a young team hoping to develop as the year goes on.

"I do my best to support them and keep them healthy," Hart said. "Practice isn't supposed to be a burden. I want the team to improve and have fun."

Last year, the Wingers dealt with numerous injuries. Two girls had serious knee injuries and another girl tore her Achilles tendon. Few of the girls train outside of the gymnastics season, so the wear and tear of the first couple weeks often takes its toll on Red Wing.

At the beginning of the season, Mayer said she tries to keep things simple so as not to push her athletes. The routines used in the first meets will be vastly different from those used at the end of the season, she said.

"The confidence level will increase throughout the year," Mayer said. "We have a lot of returning girls with some varsity experience but they're still young."

The Wingers also face top competition throughout the conference season. Northfield and New Prague are perennial state competitors, with Northfield winning the Class 2A team championship in 2011 and New Prague finishing fourth in Class 1A. Many of the top teams are composed of gymnasts who compete year round and are members of gymnastics clubs, Mayer said. Without an elite club in the Red Wing area, the Wingers are at a competitive disadvantage, she said.

"We put more emphasis on individual scores than team scores," Mayer said. "The girls are all very goal oriented. Even though we want to win, they are interested in what their progress is."

Mayer said the team is very comfortable on the beam exercise, an event that makes most teams afraid. Because of its lack of club experienced and year-round gymnasts, Red Wing's weakest event will be uneven bars, Mayer said. It is an event where reps are especially crucial, she said.

Despite the challenges, the Wingers continue to improve and will aim even higher this season.

"Our focus is to compete to the best of our ability and make it as clean, light and artistic as possible," Mayer said.

Red Wing opens its season today at Byron.

Chris Harrell
Chris Harrell is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. For updates on local sports, follow Chris on Twitter at @RECHarrell.
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