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Gymnastics: Wingers leaning on leadership

Red Wing's Carlie Sandstrom practices her beam routine Tuesday at the Red Wing Area Gymnastics Center. The Wingers opened the season Thursday at Northfield and compete again today at Byron. Photo by Chris Harrell1 / 2
Red Wing head coach Megan Latch talks with her team Tuesday during practice at the Red Wing Area Gymnastics Center. Latch, who competed as a high school gymnast for Pine Island, enters her first year as head coach for the Wingers. Photo by Chris Harrell2 / 2

The Missota Conference boasts an impressive gymnastics resume.

Northfield is a perennial Class 2A state championship contender, winning in 2010 and finishing runner-up last season, and New Prague was runner-up last year in Class 1A, making the state tournament nine of the past 10 years, while Farmington and Chanhassen both tallied scores in the top 25 in the state in 2011-12.

It's an uphill battle for Red Wing in the Missota Conference.

But in her first year as head coach of the Wingers, Megan Latch is looking forward to the improvements her gymnasts can make this season.

"We're excited," she said. "We're trying to accomplish personal bests as we go. It's a step-by-step process."

And Red Wing returns all but one varsity performer from last season. Sophomore Maria Furlong was one of the Wingers top performers but dealt with injuries and will not be competing for Red Wing this season. She does plan to return next year as a junior, she said.

Senior Molly Hart enters her third straight year as captain for the Wingers and though there's a new coaching staff, she said the experience remained the same.

"There are shorter practices, definitely, but we condition and we do gymnastics, which we love to do," Hart said.

Hart's done this before, but she's one of the few to make it to her senior year for the Red Wing gymnastics team. She hopes to be one of many.

"I hope to be a role model to the other girls," Hart said. "Make it the best they can have."

"Molly is a great leader," Latch added. "Being a new coach, (the upperclassmen) have really been helpful."

The Wingers didn't have a senior last season but have three this year. They are hopeful for the future as Latch and Hart plan to make practice as fun yet intense as possible to keep girls within the program.

"I'm just really trying to get to know the girls and have a positive atmosphere in the gym," said Latch, who was a gymnast for Pine Island in high school. "We're trying to have a lot of fun as a team, trying to have shorter practices because I don't want to burn them out."

The Wingers have dealt with injury issues in the last year, but for the most part, Red Wing is healthy heading into the beginning of the season, Latch said.

"We've been working hard at conditioning," she said. "We're trying to avoid injuries because that's how you lose a lot of girls."

The Wingers will be expecting sophomore Irina Anderson to help lead them on the scorecard. She's steadily improved each of the last two years with Red Wing, leading the Wingers in all-around scoring last year, and excels on the uneven bars, a tough event for most high school gymnasts. She is currently working on a new release for her bar routine and she helps block out fear on the event with positive affirmations.

"I keep telling myself I can do it and not to give up," Anderson said.

The competitive advantage teams near to year-round gymnastics clubs have is immense but Latch said she's pleased to step into a program like the Wingers. The Red Wing Area Gymnastics Center provides a place to train and the athletes aren't starting from scratch.

"The girls have a strong work ethic and they know the basics," Latch said. "I was able to step into an established program. We've got a really good base."

The Wingers scored a 113.9 in a season-opening meet loss at Northfield Thursday, but compete again today at Byron.

"We will be celebrating our achievements, not comparing to other teams," Latch said. "We'll be setting personal goals and celebrating the achievements we make."

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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